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AP Interview: Dow not surprised by Olympics furor

AP News
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Posted: Jan 11, 2012 2:03 PM
AP Interview: Dow not surprised by Olympics furor

Dow Chemical Co. struck back at critics of its involvement in the 2012 London Olympics on Wednesday amid a simmering controversy over its links to the company accused in the 1984 Bhopal gas leak.

George Hamilton, vice president of Dow's Olympic operations, told The Associated Press that like all big Olympic sponsors, the "chemistry company" of the games knew that taking part in the high-visibility event would open it up as a target for protests. But Hamilton says he did not anticipate that even some British politicians would protest and try to stop Dow from making a decorative curtain encircling London's Olympic Stadium.

"The Olympics have been a great lightning rod ... that was an expectation," he said. "What has surprised me is that there have been a few politicians who have enthusiastically grabbed the issue related to Bhopal."

Hamilton insists the facts are on Dow's side. Dow bought Union Carbide 16 years after the 1984 accident in the central India city of Bhopal that killed an estimated 15,000 people and injured half a million. Dow maintains it was not responsible for the catastrophe.

But some politicians in Britain, particularly lawmaker Barry Gardiner, have said that Dow's purchase of Union Carbide made the U.S.-based company responsible for groundwater contamination and other issues that linger in India. More than that, he argues that Dow's involvement in the Olympics is offensive to the thousands of dead and injured in India and is bad for Britain, which has staked billions in making the 2012 Olympics a memorable showcase.

"It is attracting exactly the wrong sort of publicity to the London Games," Gardiner said in a recent interview.

Dow's creation of the so-called Olympic "wrap" has brought the controversy to the fore. The wrap is an innovative curtain that will be hung in strips from the rafters of the steel-latticed stadium in east London. Dow got involved after Olympic officials had scrapped plans for the "wrap" last year because its price tag of 7 million pounds ($11.4 million) had been deemed too expensive at a time of economic austerity.

Architects and artists had decried the decision, suggesting the look and image of the games would suffer immensely _ never mind that people trying to find their seats would need something to make sense of the stadium's crisscrossing girders.

But the wrap plan has brought a cascade of criticism down upon the Olympic organizing committee. Protesters in India have burned an effigy of Sebastian Coe, chairman of the London organizing committee, and one Indian official has even uttered the word boycott.

Indian athletes have written to the London organizing committee demanding an end to its association with Dow, and Amnesty International has condemned the wrap deal.

The issue is complicated by the fact that Dow is one of the elite club of sponsors that the International Olympic Committee places in its "top" category. Coe would have real trouble dumping a sponsor with such status even if he wanted to _ and there are no indications that he does.

The Olympics' feel-good image is part of the reason that Dow is paying so much to be sponsor.

Hamilton's comments Wednesday suggested the company plans to fight back, to express its pride in being part of the so-called "Olympic Family" and to try to return media attention back to its products.

Hamilton noted proudly that Dow products could be found all over the Olympic Stadium, right down to the track where Usain Bolt and other stars hope to race to fame and glory. Dow Chemical products are also found on the Olympic field hockey pitches, in the cables that broadcasters use to show the games to the world and on the roofs of other Olympic sites, just to mention a few.

He also tried to underline that while Dow is based in Midland, Michigan, it is also deeply ingrained in the fabric of Britain, with 14 sites in the U.K.

"We are a neighbor. We are a citizen in the U.K.," he said. "We didn't just show up for the Olympics."