More than 75,000 firms that have helped to deliver London's Olympic Games are fighting a 12-year gagging order preventing them from talking about the work they have done, it emerged last night.
Angry business leaders are trying to force the Culture, Media and Sport Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, and senior ministers to override International Olympic Committee rules banning marketing of their work in building the Olympic Village and providing other goods and services.
The rules, which have applied to all Games in recent years, are designed to protect the rights of high-spending sponsors during the 10 weeks of the Olympic and Paralympic Games.
Yet the 12-year ban on the mostly British firms even mentioning on websites that they have supplied construction equipment, plumbing or plastic seating makes a mockery of claims by David Cameron that the Olympics will deliver a "lasting economic legacy that will benefit the whole country".
The Prime Minister and George Osborne have insisted that the Games will not only help to drive the country out of recession because of the boost in tourism, but they will also boost economic growth because of the work created by firms associated with the event.
Yet IOC rules, enforced by the London Olympic organisers Locog, force suppliers, contractors and sub-contractors to sign up to a "no marketing rights suppliers' protocol".
The ban affects a range of firms, from major infrastructure companies that have built roads and stadia to smaller subcontractors that have provided services such as security and plumbing.
Businesses have been lobbying the Government and the Olympic Delivery Authority behind the scenes for several weeks. A review of the rules by the ODA chairman, Sir John Armitt, who is understood to be sympathetic to the companies' plight, and commissioned by Mr Hunt, is being finalised. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport last night said the report could be published before the Games begin at the end of July. If the Armitt report advocates a relaxation of IOC rules, it could force a major showdown between the Government and the Olympic body.
The row over restrictions on businesses will fuel criticism that the sporting spirit of the Games is being overshadowed by the grip of corporate sponsors, who pay billions to be associated with the Olympics.
But Adam Marshall, policy director of the British Chambers of Commerce, questioned why firms could not advertise their work on the Olympics after the event was over.
He said: "Tens of thousands of UK companies, large and small, have worked on the Olympics and we want them to be able to shout from the rooftops about what they have done.
"It is one thing to want to protect the rights of some of the commercial sponsors during the Games themselves, but we would hope that businesses would be able to profit from what they have done after the Games have finished."
In a speech last September, Mr Cameron said: "In 2012, there will only be one place to be... There are so many great things about Britain and we want to send out the message loud and proud that this is a great place to do business."
And in April, as he publicised the Government's campaign to make Britain more attractive to tourism and business, the Prime Minister described the Olympics as a "once in a lifetime occasion [that] will provide UK companies with more than a £1bn business opportunity"
Locog was "paranoid" over branding during the construction of the Games venues, according to a senior London 2012 source. For the past seven years, Locog has had a branding team in place to ensure that companies that worked on the build, but were not sponsors, could not advertise at the site.
"It was really sometimes quite ridiculous," laughed one source. "You would never get any leeway from Locog, as they were so paranoid about the IOC's regulations – and, to be fair, their hands were tied by the IOC. The branding team cost lots of money, they had lots of Locog lawyers."
An extreme example was the steelwork on the Olympic stadium. The kite mark on steel also includes the manufacturer's name, in this case Corus. Locog's lawyers sent the ODA a letter demanding even that branding was covered or removed, until it was successfully proven that the word "Corus" could not be seen from any angle.
In Beijing four years ago, similar kite marks on the back of the plastic seats in stadium were covered, according to this source, and this was followed in London. Manholes, TV screens not manufactured by the Games' audiovisual partner, Panasonic, and any non-approved punched markings have also been removed or covered from view in this massive "debranding exercise".
Building, the construction trade journal, has been calling for a relaxation of the rules. Its deputy editor. Sarah Richardson, said: "While sponsorship agreements should be honoured, there can surely be some common sense applied to the marketing rights, so that firms can get the recognition that they deserve. It would be a massive shame if – at a time when construction is continuing to drag the economy into recession – firms were unable to use their fantastic work on the Olympics to their best advantage in trying to win future work in the UK and abroad."
The shadow Business Secretary, Chuka Umunna, said: "The Government should, without delay, publish the Armitt report to see what more can be done to give due attention to the contribution of businesses that have delivered the Olympics."
A DCMS spokesman added: "We are still intending to publish the report before the Games. There is a strong indication that we will do so. Sir John Armitt is currently finalising it and officials have seen early versions."
Meanwhile, thousands of London bus workers have voted to go on strike in a row over extra payments for working during the Olympics.
Members of the Unite union backed industrial action by more than nine to one, raising the prospect of a crippling walkouts during the Games, which start in the capital next month.
The union is seeking a payment of £500 for each of the 20,000 bus workers it represents in London, pointing out that other transport employees are being paid a premium for being on duty during the event.
Olympic dos and don'ts
What firms cannot do
* Say they have worked on the Games on their website homepage, or create a web page which relates only to work on the Games
* Give job titles and group names referring to the Games within their company – eg, "Olympic manager" or "2012 Unit"
* Publish news stories or press releases saying they have worked on the Games
* Allow staff to mention they have worked on the Games on Twitter, Facebook or blogs
* Run advertising or marketing campaigns mentioning that they have worked on the Games
* Respond to media inquiries about whether they are involved in the Games, and must refer all inquiries to Locog or the ODA
* Put their own branding on equipment, eg, seating, in any of the Olympic stadia and Village
What they can do
* Mention in small print on their websites and in pitch/tender documents that they have worked on the Olympics, but only if it isin a client list that includes nine other clients, and the Olympic Delivery Authority is not the first client on the list