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London protesters gear up for the Olympic Games

The extent of protest leveled at London could be symptomatic of a broader problem with the games.

More is expected to follow as various groups form allegiances under an umbrella organization known as the Counter Olympics Network, which is due to meet this weekend to coordinate strategies.

Olympic protests are nothing new. Mexico City’s 1968 Games took place against a backdrop of student demonstrations in which several protesters were shot dead. Aboriginal campaigners targeted Sydney’s Games in 2000. Athens in 2004 was also not without incident.

There was little dissent when communist Beijing hosted in 2008, despite the provision of a state-monitored protest pen. Instead, pro-Tibet activists vented their anger outside of China, disrupting Olympic torch relays in cities such as Paris, San Francisco and (ominously) London.

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But the extent of protest leveled at London is symptomatic, according to academics, of a broader problem. They argue that by transforming the Olympics into a sanitized and profit-driven behemoth in thrall to sponsors, organizers have betrayed the amateur principles of the modern games.

“They’re very much a corporate affair now, and that of course has meant the death, in practice, of the historic Olympic idea,” said Stephen Wagg, a professor and co-editor of “The Palgrave Olympic Handbook,” a newly-published sociological study that is highly critical of the games.

Wagg said Olympic spirit has been in decline since the private sector was first tapped to pay for the Los Angeles Olympic Games in 1984. He says corporate partnerships have led to a decline in civil liberties as hosts willingly enact prohibitions to safeguard the interests of sponsors.

“The Olympics media audience is near to saturation point,” he said. “It’s massive and that’s a great attraction to Olympic partners, but they want a guarantee that this will not be disrupted in any way, that nobody brings a sour taste to the Olympic media event.”

He added: “In the world that I grew up in, the Olympics was an unambiguously good thing. ... What’s different today, politically, is that an increasing number of observers do not regard the Olympics as a straightforwardly good thing any more.”