Another Paralympics took place recently.
This one was in India, in the shadow of the rusting Union Carbide chemical plant in Bhopal. The participants were children born with deformities because their parents were affected by the 1984 gas leak. Events included "assisted walking" and a "crab walk" for those unable to stand but able to race using their hands. There was also a poignant wheelchair procession with each child carrying a broom to signify that a proper clean-up has still not taken place.
It may seem bad form to pour cold water on the huge amount of goodwill created by the London Olympics. After all, we're all still basking in the warm glow and looking forward to repeating it all this week. But for many, the involvement of the giant US company Dow Chemical as a sponsor of both the Olympics and Paralympics leaves a bitter taste – especially when it comes to the Paralympics, since when one sees the pictures of Bhopal victims, one cannot help but be reminded of some of the Paralympians wheeling themselves into Heathrow.
In 2001, Dow Chemical bought Union Carbide, owners of the Bhopal plant. Dow say that at that time, Union Carbide's assets were owned by the then landowner, Everready. The courts have agreed. But campaign groups say that as the parent company, Dow are ultimately responsible. And on and on it goes in a complicated trail. Protest groups such as the Brighton-based Bhopal Medical Appeal point out that as the talking continues, poor, powerless people whose lives are a world away from Dow's corporate website or the lives of Indian government officials, continue to suffer.
Without stepping into the legal quagmire of blame, what remains clear – and scandalous – is that no proper clean up has taken place; that noxious chemicals remain within the plant and that if this had occurred in New York or Paris, it would have been sorted long ago.
To those below a certain age, Bhopal is something of a forgotten tragedy. That may change when the Scottish Friends of Bhopal bring two survivors to Edinburgh and Glasgow next month. Wouldn't it be good if Dow and the Indian government simply agreed to share a proper clean-up, as an act of charity, in a spirit of Olympic brotherhood dare one say, even if it meant a reduction in profits for Dow?
Can I collect my gold medal for naivety now, please?
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