Olympic athletes to train on timber from 'endangered' forests



Wood from forests which provide homes to some of the planet’s most endangered species is being used to construct athletes’ training facilities for next year’s London Olympics, it has been alleged.

Eucalyptus trees, from forests which date back more than 1,000 years, are being logged, despite the UN World Heritage Committee's repeated calls for that region of Tasmania to be protected.

The forests provide habitats to Tasmanian Devils, the Tasmanian Giant Freshwater Lobster and the Swift Parrot, all of which are listed as endangered species and scientists believe that the wooded area captures and stores the most carbon of any on earth per square mile.

Now though, an Australian environmental group has claimed that products made from trees felled there are being used to make a basketball court for Team USA to train on during the Games.

Although the building is not being run by the London 2012 organisers Locog, in 2018 they pledged to only use sustainable timber in the construction of the Games' venues and infrastructure, as part of a drive to make them a "truly green Games".

And, while Athens was criticised for making "no requirements for any form of sustainable wood products" in 2004, the organisers of Beijing 2008 banned wood "obtained directly from virgin forest" and, in the run-up to the 2000 Sydney Olympics, organisers pledged to only use wood which was certified by the Forest Stewardship Council.

Wood in the London SportDock facility, construction of which is being lead by the University of East London (UEL), conforms to the rival Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC) standard, which environmental groups attack for not going far enough to promote ethical logging. The facility will be rented by Team USA for the duration of the Games.

Though it does not contravene any law, the logging is opposed by environmental groups. Tim Birch, Chief executive of Markets for Change, which led a six-month investigation into the trade, tracing the wood from Tasmania to the London 2012 site, said: "Tasmania's ancient forests, which offer crucial habitat to endangered species like the Tasmanian Devil and the Tasmanian Wedge-Tailed Eagle, are being trashed so that plywood can be sold on to the international markets.

"It's a tragedy that this time the trail of destruction has led to London's Olympic Games so America's international sports stars could be forced to play on forest destruction."

He added that it was "essential" that companies review their procurement policies to ensure that they "end the UK's part in wrecking some of the world's last remaining old growth forests".

Campaigners point to Tasmanian Government documents, which show that the Malaysian manufacturer Ta Ann received timber from logging operations undertaken within old growth areas of the forest. "Whether or not Ta Ann eventually use the old growth trees which are cut down is irrelevant, the habitats have been destroyed all the same," said Will Mooney of the Huon Valley Environment Centre.

He added: "Even if they do not use the old growth timber to make their products, it is the demand for timber from the Tasmanian forest which means that old growth trees are nevertheless being cut down then discarded."

But Ta Ann says that no old growth trees are used in their products, pointing out that machinery recently installed by the company is only capable of processing regrowth trees. A spokesman for Ta Ann Tasmania said that its products are produced "from regrowth timber billets harvested strictly in accordance with Australia's forest policies and laws including the forest practices code".

Greenpeace's executive director John Sauven said: "As a proud Londoner, I'm shocked that ancient forests crucial for conserving the world's tallest flowering plants, the largest hardwood trees in the world, and many endangered animals are being used for flooring in London's Olympics.

"British companies like International Plywood could end the destruction by ensuring they no longer do business" with companies who handle even new growth Tasmanian timber.

Both UEL and Dynamik Sport Surfaces, which installed the wooden flooring, said they were initially unaware that parts of the wood used in the flooring installed in the building was from the Tasmanian forest. UEL said that, had it been aware of the concerns over the source of the material, "it would have been considered. But hindsight is a great thing."

A spokesman said: "We are totally committed to making sure the £21million SportsDock facility is an environmentally friendly development and that this new facility has the best mix of sustainable materials and features.

"The International Basketball Federation has very clear specifications about what type of materials should be used when constructing a court, which will be used by professional basketball players. Following this guidance and consultation with the relevant consultant for this development, the material was sourced."

According to Markets for Change, the wood products destined for the UEL site passed from the Malaysian logging company Ta Ann, entering Europe in the hands of International Plywood. It eventually ended up in the hands of Dynamik, which laid it as flooring.

Anil Batra, Dynamik's Financial and Marketing Director said he was "interested in the issue, now it has been brought to our attention" but pointed out that no laws had been broken and that the wood was certified by the international PEFC.

A Ta Ann spokesman initially called said: "what a great result for Tasmania, our timber being used in the London Olympics. He claimed that the Tasmanian subsidiary uses regrowth billets of wood and operates strictly in accordance with Australian laws and sustainability requirements.

He acknowledged that the Tasmanian forest is "a mosaic of regrowth and some old growth" and said that the company can only use billets from regrowth". He later said that the company had not carried out any production of veneer products bound for the UK and cast doubt on whether the wood used at UEL could be proven to be from his company.

Markets for Change produced images it said showed Ta Ann-branded crates at the UEL site which they said also had licence numbers identifying them as containing Ta-Ann-manufactured products.

A spokesman for International Plywood said the company did not have any current contracts with Ta Ann and would review its trading relationship with the firm, if it could be shown it was "acting in a way that would not comply with our purchasing policy standards". However, the spokesman said it had no reason to believe that were the case and "if Ta Ann were able to supply PEFC certified plywood as they have done previously they would meet our current purchasing policy".

A spokesman for Team USA refused to comment.

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