Opinion: Should we embrace the 2012 Olympics?

The five rings of the Olympic symbol are supposed to represent the union of the five continents and are based on the lofty narrative of the Olympic Charter.

The charter is designed "to contribute to building a peaceful and better world". It refers to the "preservation of human dignity" and "harmonious development of man". Indeed. I struggled to see this spirit manifested in the Olympic flame's tumultuous and chaotic tour through the streets of London, Paris and San Francisco last week.

The surprising insouciance of members of the International Olympic Committee made me wonder whether they really understood the value of the Olympic brand. It is probably one of the most powerful and enduring brands we know - yet it has been compromised by recent events. This atrocious brand management could affect the London 2012 Olympics.

Politics aside, the London games are a tremendous asset to the United Kingdom -an opportunity to develop one of the poorest boroughs in London and bring people together. This is the spirit of the Olympic Charter, and there are strong parallels with projects such as The Big Opportunity and the Cultural Olympiad. These initiatives, launched in June 2000, look to the voluntary sector in striving to achieve the Olympic ideal.

The Big Opportunity seeks to "harness the skills, experience and innovation of the third sector to enable London's communities to fully benefit from the 2012 games". But will a sector that has a record of strong social justice principles be prepared to support a brand that is damaged in terms of social justice? Will people be prepared to volunteer to support the games? Will individual charities be reassessing their association with the Olympic brand? These are issues that the voluntary sector should consider.

The Olympic brand has always been vulnerable in a world that increasingly relies on warfare, occupation and financial blackmail to conduct its daily business. Its ideals echo ours, but only in theory at the moment.

- John Knight is head of policy and campaigns at Leonard Cheshire Disability: jk.thirdsector@googlemail.com.

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