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

Jacqueline Bisset has claimed that young women today are obsessed with being 'hot', rather than 'charming', 'romantic' or 'beautiful'
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham
booksLena Dunham's memoirs - written at the age of 28 - are honest to the point of making you squirm
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey
tvDownton Abbey review: It's six months since we last caught up with the Crawley clan
Frank Lampard and his non-celebration
premier leagueManchester City vs Chelsea match report from the Etihad Stadium
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
techNew app offers 'PG alternative' to dating services like Tinder
Greg Dyke insists he will not resign as Football Association chairman after receiving a watch worth more than £16,000 but has called for an end to the culture of gifts being given to football officials
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden sings his heart out in his second audition
tvX Factor: How did the Jakes - and Charlie Martinez - fare?
premier league
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave crime series
Mario Balotelli celebrates his first Liverpool goal
premier leagueLiverpool striker expressed his opinion about the 5-3 thriller with Leicester - then this happened
Britain's shadow chancellor Ed Balls (L) challenges reporter Rob Merrick for the ball during the Labour Party versus the media soccer match,
peopleReporter left bleeding after tackle from shadow Chancellor in annual political football match
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says
tvSpoiler warning: Star of George RR Martin's hit series says viewers have 'not seen the last' of him/her
Plenty to ponder: Amir Khan has had repeated problems with US immigration because of his Muslim faith and now American television may shun him
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

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

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

IT Support Technician (2nd Line / Server Support) - Bedford

£24000 - £26000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: 2nd line IT Support Techn...


£100 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Would you like to have a b...

Year 3 Teacher

£100 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: KS2 TeacherWould you like ...

Science Teacher

£100 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Preston: Are you a qualified science t...

Day In a Page

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments