May 6, 2012
Religious symbols have been banned from a "faith" badge designed for chaplains at the London Games in case they cause offence.
The London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (Locog) asked its advisory committee of faith representatives to suggest ideas for the lapel pin, which is intended to be the lasting symbol of the role of religious leaders for London 2012.
But plans for a design featuring symbols of each of the nine faiths represented on the committee were rejected — because not all religious believers would feel "comfortable" wearing symbols of other faiths.
In episodes of the BBC comedy Twenty Twelve broadcast in March and April, the "Olympics deliverance team" faces a crisis when plans for its "shared belief centre" offend the Algerian team, which threatens to boycott the event.
At one point during the discussions that follow, a public relations adviser suggests asking a vicar to remove his clerical collar in case it offends a visiting Muslim leader.
Lord Coe, Locog’s chairman, makes a cameo appearance on the programme, appealing for calm as an increasing number of countries threaten to boycott the Games.
He says: "What I would say to the Algerians is that the Games are about multiculturality. Come to 2012, celebrate with us and trust us to work our way through these details."
But the fictional fixation with "multiculturality" may not be as far from the truth as the scriptwriter, John Morton, might have thought.
The final badge — presented to the Archbishop of Canterbury and eight other faith leaders when they toured the Olympic park — simply features the word "faith" and a globe, alongside the Olympics and Paralympics logos.
Mr Morton said it was "perfect" material for the sitcom — albeit too late for the final three episodes which will be broadcast before the opening of the Games in July.
He said: "You can just imagine the discussions, and what’s really funny and sad is the amount of care, thought and sensitivity that has gone into producing something that is so utterly bland.
"By the time any possibility of offence has been addressed then any meaning has been washed away as well.
"It’s an extraordinary achievement. In trying not to cause offence you end up completely hamstrung."
The badge will be worn by the 193 faith chaplains — who will look after athletes, officials, staff and members of the media.
Although there was support for a badge bearing the nine symbols — including the cross and Islamic crescent — the organisers say it would have "limited" the "appeal" to religious athletes and spectators.
The group also dismissed other proposals for the design, including images of hands in prayer and a lit candle.
The Rev Canon Duncan Green, an Anglican priest who is head of Locog’s multi-faith services, said: "We discussed lots of ideas — it is always difficult to get a symbol that is comfortable with everyone.
"We wanted something that people of all faiths could wear and feel comfortable with and that showed the world faiths coming together.
"If we want something that appeals to all faiths it has to be neutral."
The Olympic Village’s multi-faith building will have specific areas for each of the five largest faiths: Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism and Buddhism.
Practising Baha’i, Jain and Zoroastrian athletes and spectators are also represented on the advisory group and will be catered for at the Games.
Canon Green has also arranged daily "break-a-fast" food packs for Muslims observing the festival of Ramadan, which falls during the Games period.
Last year he negotiated with security chiefs to win a concession allowing Sikhs to take a sheathed kirpan — ceremonial dagger — into the grounds, as long as it is worn alongside the other articles of faith and underneath clothing.