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Will India Boycott the Olympics?

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Sport & Culture

Will India Boycott the Olympics?

Talk of India boycotting the Olympics is a reminder of how the Bhopal disaster still haunts the country.

India may or may not be on the verge of boycotting the London 2012 Olympic Games owing to the involvement of Dow Chemical as a sponsor. However, one thing is for sure: the controversy isn’t going away.

Dow is an American company that’s also the parent of Union Carbide, which was held responsible by India for the disaster in the city of Bhopal in 1984 in which gas from the plant leaked into the city, claiming almost 3,000 lives.

The news that Dow was a partner for the London games wasn’t received well in India, and there was talk of the team not going to England this summer. It’s still unclear if they will.

“We met Rahul Bhatnagar, the joint secretary in the sports ministry,” Rachna Dhingra of Bhopal Group for Information and Action told Indo-Asian news service.

“He assured us that the Olympics boycott is on their table and that they are just waiting for a reply from the IOC, to whom they have written a letter,” Dhingra said. “He even said that like the victims of the 1984 disaster, it is their (ministry's) concern too that Dow is sponsoring the Olympics.”

But then the acting president of the Indian Olympic Association, V.K. Malhotra, informed the website Around the Rings  that while protests will continue, the athletes will be there.

“We are still protesting to the IOC and requested our government to look into the matter,” he told the Olympic specialist site. “We have not decided to boycott.”

TheIndian government has reportedly written to the IOC asking that the sponsorship deal with Dow be scrapped. Dow pays $100 million every four years in a deal that will end in 2020. 

In 1989, Union Carbide paid out a $470 million compensation package to the victims. Now the Indian government, as well as some leading environmental groups, want Dow to increase that figure, with Delhi asking for $1.7 billion more.

The American company’s stance is that the 1989 payout settled liabilities with the victims.

“Dow was never there. We did not acquire any of the connection with Bhopal,” said George Hamilton, Dow’s vice president of Olympic operations, according to Reuters.

“For some to try to tie Dow to this, and then to use the Olympic platform to try to serve their cause, it does call for some strong words.”