We're being denied Olympic gold rush, say small firms

Small firms fight back as local circus troupe is told not to use image of coloured hula-hoops

Small British companies seeking to benefit from the Games are being blocked by aggressive policing of Olympic trademarks, business leaders said yesterday.

John Walker, chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses, said the clampdown by Locog (London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games) on use of symbols and terminology had gone too far. "Locog appear to have lost all sense of reasonableness and proportion," he said.

Mr Walker said he recognised the need to protect the Olympic brand but the body was going too far in its enforcement.

"In their zeal, Locog appears to have lost all sense of reasonableness and proportion," he said. "Given that the Games were 'sold' to the taxpayer as a boon for the UK economy, small firms should feel the London Olympics are an opportunity, rather than a threat. We carried out a detailed survey of our members in January that revealed a mere seven per cent of small businesses thought the Olympic Games would benefit them while a quarter thought they would damage trade."

Last week, a barrister from Locog's brand protection team phoned an entertainment company in Brighton to tell them that the words "Olympics" and "London 2012" must be removed from their website immediately to avoid court action. The agency, H2oh! Entertainment, was selling circus and variety acts for corporate functions to be hired in the build up to the Games. The same section on the site now reads: "Sports themed acts for 2012."

"Most people that I've told the story to have laughed, and that's what I have done because it's so ridiculous, but there's a serious edge, and you wonder why an organisation like Locog is being allowed to pursue small businesses in this sinister way," said director Helen Day.

Having made the suggested changes, she received another call. "He said he was happy with the wording, but one of the acts, the aerial hoops, posed with hoops in the Olympic colours, was too much like the Olympic logo."

Ms Day isn't the first to fall foul of official brand guidelines. The University of Derby was forced to take down a banner which read, "supporting the London Olympics", while bakers at the British Sugarcraft Guild were told that using the logo on cakes was unacceptable. Simon Walker, director general of the Institute of Directors, said Locog were "overzealous to prevent anyone from using the word Olympics".

A Locog spokesperson said: "Locog has an obligation to protect and preserve the exclusive rights to associate with the Olympic, Paralympic and London 2012 brands."