The only medal UK Sport deserves for its partnership with BAE is a badge of shame


On reflection, Faster, Higher, Stronger is just as prescient a motto for an Olympian as it is for a Tomahawk missile, so perhaps this column shouldn’t have been so surprised when it was invited to an update on Team GB’s Rio medal prospects at the headquarters of Britain’s largest exporter of industrialised misery and destruction, BAE Systems.

There on the screen, all PowerPointed up as we sat and listened, were the splashing swimmers, the whooshing cyclists, the whirling taekwonders. And there, on the walls, were soldiers in khaki under the  desert sun, loading impossibly large shells into two-storey-high cannons, ready to rain down death.

Most widely known for various historic controversies over landmines, cluster bombs and for kitting out the Saudi Arabian regime with whatever brutal instruments it might require, BAE has in fact had an ongoing deal with UK Sport – the body that decides which sports are worth going for gold in, and doles out the cash accordingly – since long before London 2012.

There is, it seems, a considerable overlap in technological expertise between slapping down pro-democracy protest in Bahrain and skeleton bobsledding. One requires BAE-designed tanks, the other a BAE-designed sled.

The UK Sport partnership, it was made clear, is a crucial part of the business. “I can’t think of anything more inspiring. We use it to promote careers,” BAE’s Kelvin Davies, who is in charge of it, excitedly explained. “We take our sporting events into schools, to show young kids what careers to choose.”

Then he pressed play on a little video of bright young graduates, all gainfully employed by an international arms exporter, talking of how amazing it is to “look at the pictures on the television, and know that I was part of that”.

The sheer brass neck of it is almost to be admired. There is much truth to the argument that mega sporting events like the Olympics, and the World Cup too, have been mutated and exploited to such a degree that their primary function is to serve as a taxpayer-funded advert for the world’s biggest brands.

The people, be they Brazilian, Russian or British (Qatar’s a special case), pay out for the vast stadiums, then the corporations come along, stump up a tiny fraction of the overall cost, and slather their logos all over them. Not even the athletes get paid, and not that many of them are rich.

But if Coke and McDonald’s can seriously get away with alloying themselves in the public mind with the rippling midriffs of the world’s most finely tuned human beings – and they can – why should we even be surprised if a weapons manufacturer should seek to get in on the act?

What’s disappointing is the price. When our Olympic stars are rented out as a reputation-laundering service for companies primarily interested in dreadful things, they could at least charge a bit more.

The BAE contribution adds up to a little over half a million quid a year, rather less than the $400m (£240m) fine it paid four years ago to the US Justice Department to end a series of corruption charges that had been brought against it.

And that tiny sum is payment in kind, not cash, mainly through letting the Paralympic wheelchair racers have a little go in BAE’s wind tunnel in Lancashire. In return comes a cheery sales pitch for students, full of smiley skeleton bobsledders instead of screeching fighter jets and pillars of smoke rising into the sky above obliterated Middle Eastern cities. That’s worth its weight in gold medals.

In the meantime – this column was breezily told – BAE continues to work on projects with potential implications for sport, like drones with onboard 3D printers, and self-healing aircraft wings. The undroppable relay baton didn’t get a mention. We can but dream.

It’s easy to laugh, but it is possible there’s a deeper logic to it. It is boom time for para-sports at the moment, primarily thanks to London 2012, but the crucial role of the international arms trade should not be underestimated. Yes, world peace would be great, but for amputee sport potentially fatal.

As the last British company to stop producing landmines, BAE’s main contribution to the Paralympics is probably something for which it is rarely thanked – a steady stream of competitors.

German justice full value for money, as Bernie would know

It was not so long ago that wee Bernie Ecclestone waved a dismissive hand at the banks of paparazzi outside London’s High Court and stepped bravely into the comparative safety of its revolving door, only inexplicably to remain revolving inside it through a full 360-degree rotation and then re-emerge on the pavement outside, back in front of the now confounded photographers.

It’s possible then that he also did not see coming the suggestion that to pay £60m to a German court to have bribery charges against you dropped might, to the casual observer, bear a quite strong resemblance to bribery. With a 10-year jail term a possibility, one reading is the man with an estimated £4bn fortune has got off rather lightly, but not he. “I’m a bit of an idiot for paying it,” he said of the largest such settlement in German judicial history, and walked away neither guilty nor innocent.

This, by the way, from a man who, friends tell this column, seethes with rage over his socialite daughters’ monstrously extravagant spending habits (financed by their mother) and “would argue over the price of a pint of milk”. When it comes to money, an idiot he is not.

Twitter: @tompeck

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
love + sex
Arts and Entertainment
Victoria Wood, Kayvan Novak, Alexa Chung, Chris Moyles
tvReview: No soggy bottoms, but plenty of other baking disasters on The Great Comic Relief Bake Off
Ashley Young celebrates the winner for Manchester United against Newcastle
footballNewcastle 0 Man United 1: Last minute strike seals precious victory
Life and Style
Tikka Masala has been overtaken by Jalfrezi as the nation's most popular curry
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Seth Rogan is one of America’s most famous pot smokers
filmAmy Pascal resigned after her personal emails were leaked following a cyber-attack sparked by the actor's film The Interview
Benjamin Netanyahu and his cartoon bomb – the Israeli PM shows his ‘evidence’
Arts and Entertainment
80s trailblazer: comedian Tracey Ullman
Life and Style
A statue of the Flemish geographer Gerard Kremer, Geradus Mercator (1512 - 1594) which was unveiled at the Geographical Congree at Anvers. He was the first person to use the word atlas to describe a book of maps.
techThe 16th century cartographer created the atlas
Arts and Entertainment
Stephen Tompkinson is back as DCI Banks
tvReview: Episode one of the new series played it safe, but at least this drama has a winning formula
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: UI / UX Designer

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This firm are focussed on assis...

Recruitment Genius: General Processor

£7 per hour: Recruitment Genius: A vacancy has arisen for a General Processor ...

Recruitment Genius: Outbound Sales Executive - B2B

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A great opportunity has arisen ...

Recruitment Genius: Online Sales and Customer Services Associate

£14000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Full time and Part time positio...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot