London:  As the year-long countdown begins for the 2012 London Olympics, organizers here have been hit by the first major controversy around the mega sporting event with activists of Bhopal gas disaster planning protests against Dow Chemical Company being one of the official sponsors.

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London Olympics Chief Sebastian Coe and London Mayor Boris Johnson have enthusiastically welcomed Dow Jones, but campaigners seeking justice for Bhopal gas victims are up in arms. Dow Chemical bought Union Carbide Corporation in 2001.

A spokesman of the Lfondon 2012 Organizing Committee told a news agency on Monday: "It is a matter of record that the plant at the time of this human tragedy was not owned by Dow Chemical. Dow was appointed as the supplier of the wrap following a rigorous procurement process.

All of our suppliers must work within our own sustainable sourcing code and reflect our values and sustainability requirements."

Dow Chemicals' controversial sponsorship has already made news in the British news media.

As part of the sponsorship, Dow Chemical will produce a fabric "wrap" around the main stadium.

It is supposed to be "sustainable" with resins made by Dow's  Performance Plastics Division.

It is said to be 35 per cent lighter and have a lower carbon footprint compared with conventional materials. Dow Chemical, which was a partner of the International Olympic Committee long before the "wrap" announcement was made, and took over Union Carbide in 2001, long after the 1984 Bhopal gas leak, says it cannot be held responsible for
mistakes in the past.

Keith Wiggans, Managing Director of Dow UK says it is time to move forward and leave the "awful legacies of the past behind," but campaigners insist that the effects of the Bhopal disaster are much evident today.

Lorraine Close of the UK-based Bhopal Medical Appeal wrote in her blog: "The Olympic organizers who claim to be committed to sustainability, are willing to partner with Dow brings shame on the UK and yet again, on the Olympic Games and irrevocably demonstrates the ongoing influence of the multinational superpowers in global affairs."

She added: "For Dow to be allowed to be associated with a 'sporting' event is an insult to the people in Bhopal and to those around the world who support them... The fundamental point he conveniently neglected to mention is that there is nothing past tense about the situation in Bhopal."

Close alleged that for 27 years Union Carbide and Dow Chemical blatantly ignored the fact that tonne of toxic waste had been dumped and left in Bhopal, and their refusal to clean up the former factory site has resulted in a humanitarian catastrophe that continues today.

Gushing remarks about Dow Chemical by Sebastian Coe and Boris Johnson are particularly galling to Bhopal campaigners.

Coe said: "The stadium will look spectacular at Games time and having the wrap is the icing on the cake. I'm delighted that Dow as one of the newer worldwide partners of the Olympic movement will be providing it and importantly doing it in a sustainable way." Johnson said: "This will provide the final grand touch to the magnificent stadium, which has already become an icon of the 2012 Games, transforming the east London landscape forever."

The Dow Chemical-sponsored "wrap" will comprise of 336 individual panels – each approximately 25 metre high and 2.5 metre wide.

According to the organizers, it will "help the stadium become the visual centre piece of the Olympic Park". Installation is to be completed by spring 2012.

Rachna Dhingra, spokeswoman of the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal, is quoted in media reports as saying: "We have a message for Seb Coe: 'surely, it's possible to do the Olympics without taking money from this Company? They have a PR machine working for them day and night.

They can pretty much get away with anything. They're so powerful and have so much money. They hire the most expensive lawyers in this country and they dangle the carrot of investment in India".

Arundhati Muthu, Greenpeace spokesman, also described the London 2012 move as 'offensive', and added: "This crass attempt by Dow to detoxify their brand won't wash with the thousands of victims of the Bhopal disaster, nor ordinary Londoners."

Lorraine Close added: "It is absurd that one of the richest multinationals in the word continues to abuse and neglect some of the poorest people, while being positively reinforced by Olympic organizers and the UK government."

(Agencies)