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Voices of Dissent at the Olympics -- You Won't See It on NBC

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While NBC airs wall-to-wall coverage of the Olympic Games in London, little attention has been paid to what has taken place behind the scenes and just outside Olympic Park where many organizations are mobilizing to bring attention to many issues.

London police arrested 182 people Friday for taking part in the monthly Critical Mass bike ride during the Olympics' opening ceremony. Meanwhile, public outcry is growing after thousands of fans were told the Games were sold out, but prime seats reserved largely for sports federations and corporate sponsors have remained empty.

Democracy Now! speaks at length about the activism going on at the Olympics with scholar and former U.S. soccer team member, Jules Boykoff, in London. Boykoff has been in England since April researching a book on dissent and the Olympics.

Boykoff says people are upset by the many empty seats because this year's Olympics is estimated to cost British taxpayers a staggering $17 billion.

"If you calculate who's actually kicking in that money, somewhere between 88 and 98 percent is being paid for by the British taxpaying public, so 88 to 98 percent," Boykoff says. "British taxpayers are told that this is a public-private partnership, but it's an extremely lopsided one at that."

On top of this, British citizens have been experiencing grueling austerity measures in the wake of the worldwide financial crisis.

"People here in London know that Europe is roiling in austerity. They've seen serious budget cuts here in the U.K., and they're none too happy about having to pay the price for this Olympic Games," Boykoff says.

Recently, former Prime Minister Tony Blair described the Olympics as a "gigantic schmooze-athon" -- one that Boykoff notes is for "corporates," as stated by credit rating agency, Moody's.

"That schmooze-athon is not going to be for the people of Newham, one of the boroughs, one of the poorest areas in London who's hosting the Games. It's not going to be for the people of the Clays Lane Estate, who were kicked out of their homes, some 400-plus of them, and had their places bulldozed to make way for Olympic venues. It's going to be for the corporates."

And while much attention has been given to the expulsion of Greek athlete Voula Papachristou for a racist comment she made on Twitter, there is little awareness of the racist policies surrounding the Games.

"There's a dispersal zone set up around East London, that if there's more than two people in them, police can come along if they think they're engaging in antisocial behavior and kick them out of the area and make them not return," Boykoff reports. "And so, we see those, and those are inordinately pressed against marginalized populations and racial minorities."

Activists are also outraged that the Olympics' long list of sponsors include Dow Chemical and BP, companies with human rights records that critics say are at odds with the Olympic ideals of global peace and goodwill.

All of these issues provide a rare opportunity for activist voices to be heard.

"We often say [at protests] that the entire world is watching, the whole world is watching. And, in fact, at the Olympics, it almost is," Boykoff says. "This is a real opportunity for activists to put their ideas in front of people who might not otherwise be able to or willing to listen to them."

Democracy Now! has reported on dissent at summer and winter Olympic games for 15 years. See these reports in our news archive, click here.

Click here to read the complete transcript of this interview and for more information about Democracy Now!, an independent, global weekday news hour.

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