The Olympics banned list

The official list of prohibited items at the Olympics includes "oversized hats" and "sharpened combs".

For those who have yet to read it, the 2012 Olympics list of prohibited items is quite a funny diktat. At first, it looks like a typical bit of health and safety box ticking: no booze, no fireworks, no laser pointers, blah blah. Most of the stuff in the first half of the list is brought in by the kind of people whom it’s fair to say don’t particularly care for health and safety regulations. At least, I can’t remember the last time I headed down to Twickenham with a “sharpened comb”, a “bayonet” (what with it not being 1890) or some “CS gas”. Just in case, like.

But it’s the second half of the list whereupon things get interesting. Immediately, we see “excessive amounts of food”. Who defines “excessive”?  My own definition wavers between “a big sandwich” and “an entire Domino’s pizza, three bottles of Lucozade and a tub of Ben and Jerry’s”, depending on whether or not I’m hungover. I guess the important thing is that if your definition tends towards the latter, then you can hit the world’s largest McDonald’s (1,500 seats!! No?) in the Olympic Park as hard as you like, thus helping the games bring us that economic boost we’ve all been promised. Cunning stuff.

But more to the point – “any objects or clothing bearing political statements or overt commercial identification intended for ‘ambush marketing’”. Again, the problem here is one of clarity. It seems that while Locog are quite happy with you wearing that banterific Inbetweeners “Pussay Patrol” t-shirt, there’s a clear question over your “Keep Calm and Smoke Weed” one. Is that too political? Will your Che Guevara t-shirt get you sent home, and if so, for what? For supporting communism? For espousing the 1958 removal of Fulgencio Batista? For championing the right to look like a tool? Reader, I wish I could tell you.

And as for “ambush marketing”, it seems unlikely anyone outside of the advertising industry (let’s be honest, this guff has their moronic paws all over it) understands this term. I know I don’t. The problem is that ever since clothes started getting logos, we’ve all become ambush marketers, in a way. Will I be a suspect on the grounds that when clothes shopping I just buy what the mannequins in Marks and Spencer are wearing? Is the complimentary “I’m an Amiga gamer and proud” hat I got in 1992 now acceptable? (My ex-girlfriend can answer this: apparently not). And while we're on the subject of hats, heaven forbid it's got a bit of a brim on it - "oversized hats" are strictly forbidden.

Those of us who regularly go to sports events are used to this arseclap.  No doubt it kind of makes sense to the companies that implement it, and most of the time we – being British – shrug our shoulders, grumble and play along. The Olympics has taken it to a whole new level, a somewhat surreal, otherworldly level where, thanks to McDonald’s, you can only order chips on the Olympic site if they’re accompanied by a fish. Ludicrous, you say? Well yes: we’re talking branding here, not sense.

The truth is that Locog know this sort of thing adds to any cynicism the public feels about the Games. But they also know that £750m in sponsorship is £750m in sponsorship. McDonald’s, Visa, and Cadbury can pretty much do what the hell they like. Apply that principle to the world outside the stadia, and suddenly it’s not so funny.

Here's the full list:

Prohibited and restricted items lists

 

Look! It's the Pope wearing a sombrero. No, really. Photograph: Getty Images

Alan White's work has appeared in the Observer, Times, Private Eye, The National and the TLS. As John Heale, he is the author of One Blood: Inside Britain's Gang Culture.

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Northern Ireland election results: a shift beneath the status quo

The power of the largest parties has been maintained, while newer parties running on nicher subjects with no connection to Northern Ireland’s traditional religious divide are rapidly rising.

After a long day of counting and tinkering with the region’s complex PR vote transfer sytem, Northern Irish election results are slowly starting to trickle in. Overall, the status quo of the largest parties has been maintained with Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionist Party returning as the largest nationalist and unionist party respectively. However, beyond the immediate scope of the biggest parties, interesting changes are taking place. The two smaller nationalist and unionist parties appear to be losing support, while newer parties running on nicher subjects with no connection to Northern Ireland’s traditional religious divide are rapidly rising.

The most significant win of the night so far has been Gerry Carroll from People Before Profit who topped polls in the Republican heartland of West Belfast. Traditionally a Sinn Fein safe constituency and a former seat of party leader Gerry Adams, Carroll has won hearts at a local level after years of community work and anti-austerity activism. A second People Before Profit candidate Eamon McCann also holds a strong chance of winning a seat in Foyle. The hard-left party’s passionate defence of public services and anti-austerity politics have held sway with working class families in the Republican constituencies which both feature high unemployment levels and which are increasingly finding Republicanism’s focus on the constitutional question limiting in strained economic times.

The Green party is another smaller party which is slowly edging further into the mainstream. As one of the only pro-choice parties at Stormont which advocates for abortion to be legalised on a level with Great Britain’s 1967 Abortion Act, the party has found itself thrust into the spotlight in recent months following the prosecution of a number of women on abortion related offences.

The mixed-religion, cross-community Alliance party has experienced mixed results. Although it looks set to increase its result overall, one of the best known faces of the party, party leader David Ford, faces the real possibility of losing his seat in South Antrim following a poor performance as Justice Minister. Naomi Long, who sensationally beat First Minister Peter Robinson to take his East Belfast seat at the 2011 Westminster election before losing it again to a pan-unionist candidate, has been elected as Stormont MLA for the same constituency. Following her competent performance as MP and efforts to reach out to both Protestant and Catholic voters, she has been seen by many as a rising star in the party and could now represent a more appealing leader to Ford.

As these smaller parties slowly gain a foothold in Northern Ireland’s long-established and stagnant political landscape, it appears to be the smaller two nationalist and unionist parties which are losing out to them. The moderate nationalist party the SDLP risks losing previously safe seats such as well-known former minister Alex Attwood’s West Belfast seat. The party’s traditional, conservative values such as upholding the abortion ban and failing to embrace the campaign for same-sex marriage has alienated younger voters who instead may be drawn to Alliance, the Greens or People Before Profit. Local commentators have speculate that the party may fail to get enough support to qualify for a minister at the executive table.

The UUP are in a similar position on the unionist side of the spectrum. While popular with older voters, they lack the charismatic force of the DUP and progressive policies of the newer parties. Over the course of the last parliament, the party has aired the possibility of forming an official opposition rather than propping up the mandatory power-sharing coalition set out by the peace process. A few months ago, legislation will finally past to allow such an opposition to form. The UUP would not commit to saying whether they are planning on being the first party to take up that position. However, lacklustre election results may increase the appeal. As the SDLP suffers similar circumstances, they might well also see themselves attracted to the role and form a Stormont’s first official opposition together as a way of regaining relevance and esteem in a system where smaller parties are increasingly jostling for space.