Olympics 2012: Religion and Law Round-up

To mark the closing ceremony of the London 2012 Olympics, Law and Religion UK is reviewing some of the events and issues that have arisen during the last two weeks, which started with three minutes of bell ringing throughout the country.  An event conceived by performance artist Martin Creed, it was uncertain what support it might receive, but on 27th August 2.9 million participants took part in Work 1197 All the Bells which became the top trend on Twitter in the UK throughout the morning.  The event was broadcast live by the BBC on television, radio and on-line to an estimated audience of over 12 million.

Neither this nor the 4-hour peals rung at St Paul’s and Southwark Cathedrals and Westminster Abbey appears to have triggered any of the legislation associated with this aspect of noise nuisance, although there were health and safety issues when a bystander narrowly avoided injury following the bell malfunction of Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt.  However, it was the 27 ton bell rung to start the games at 9pm by Tour de France winner, Bradley Wiggins that was a concern for former Coventry City goalkeeper and conspiracy theorist, David Icke.  He claimed that ‘[t]he enormous Olympic bell, the biggest harmonically-tuned bell in the world made specially for the opening ceremony, is designed to dictate satanic frequency right at the start’.

Nevertheless, serious religious issues did arise.  Coinciding with the holy month of Ramadan, the Olympics posed important choices for the 3,000 or so Muslim competitors on how they meet the requirement of dawn to sunset fasting of food and water.  Although the timing of Ramadan is predictable, since the Islamic calendar is based on the lunar calendar year Ramadan migrates throughout the seasons.  Consequently, Muslim athletes are accustomed to addressing their training and competition schedules to accommodate its requirements.  This is the first Games to have coincided with Ramadan since those in Moscow in 1980.

Some athletes such as Team GB discus thrower Abdul Buhari made the decision to fast later in the year, whilst most of the Egyptian athletes are fasting only on training days.  Others arranged to undertake charitable acts in lieu of fasting, but for those who observed the fast could order ‘breaking-fast packs’ filled with dates, traditionally eaten when breaking a fast, as well as water and energy bars.  At the 24-hour canteen on the Olympic Village, pre-fast meals to be consumed just before sunrise were available.

A study undertaken by scientists from Loughborough University concluded: ‘fasting of short duration or intermittent nature has little or no effect on the health or performance of most athletes … Ramadan observance has only limited adverse consequences for either training or competitive performance.’  In practice, however, athletes are making the decision on the basis of advice from their trainers and religious advisers.

The extent to which an athlete’s faith is instrumental in their success has been debated, and whilst some have suggested that this is merely a placebo effect, others believe that the faith is pivotal to their performance.  This is not the forum within which to enter such a debate, other than to note the comment made by Oakley that those athletes who believe that the result is in God’s hands are adopting a determinist rather than an an existentialist view of the world.

A number of international sports bodies relaxed their rules relating to clothing so that more Muslim women might compete, and this enabled the participation of women from Brunei, Qatar and Saudi Arabia.  For the first time, women will compete in all 26 Olympic sports, although they will take part in 30 fewer events and as such be eligible for 132 medals rather than the 162 awarded to men.

The UK has the largest Sikh population outside India and the wearing of the ceremonial short sword, the kirpan, is fundamental to Amritdhari Sikhs who make up about 10% of the Sikh population.  In view of the tight security measures controlling access to the Games, there were concerns as to whether competitors and spectators would be permitted entry if wearing the kirpan.  Guidance on the wearing of the kirpan has been provided by the Sikh Community and the Equality and Human Rights Commission, (EHRC), and  section 139(5) of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 provides a defence to the offence of having article with blade or point in public place, providing that it is: for use at work; for religious reasons; or as part of any national costume.  Furthermore EHRC Guidance states that Sikhs are both an ethnic and a religious group so are protected from racial as well as religious discrimination, after the Lords decision in Mandla v Dowell-Lee.  However, in the more recent Dhinsa v Serco & Anor [2011] ET/1315002/09, the Employment Tribunal held that Amritdhari Sikhs are not a distinct racial group, as less than 10% of all Sikhs are required to carry one, although the wearing of the kirpan was considered as a distinct religious belief.

Nevertheless, prior to the start of the Games, Sikhs were assured by Lord Coe:

‘At Games-time, small symbolic ceremonial daggers (an Article of Faith with a maximum blade length of 3 inches) carried for religious reasons will be allowed.’

For the most part, this worked without incident although one family was denied entry to Olympic football game in Coventry.

An early sponsorship row, concerning a possible ban on spectators wearing the brands of rivals to companies who had agreed substantial sponsorship deals, seems to have been oblivious to the fact that the Nike is traditionally represented on the front face of all Olympic medals, albeit in the form of the Greek Goddess of Victory stepping out the Panathinaiko Stadium and without the ‘Swoosh’ logo or a speech bubble saying ‘Just Do It’.

High profile sponsorship works both ways, and after the men’s 100m final on Sunday 5th August, War on Want projected a giant video message in protest to the alleged exploitation of sportswear workers around the world.  It is uncertain what impact this had on the visitors, who through legislative changes to the UK trading laws were able to continue shopping on Sundays during the Olympic period.

Faith groups have used the Olympics as an opportunity for outreach and hospitality, such as the Christian churches’ More than Gold initiative.  One aspect of this is the provision of Games Pastors, modelled on the successful inter-denominational Street Pastors scheme that has been operating in the UK for since 2003.  Feedback to date has suggested that that the Games Pastors programme is likely to be adopted in future sporting events such as the Commonwealth Games in 2014 and Rio 2016.

As Team GB and others assess their performance in the medal tables, alternative methods of comparison have been produced, such as those reported here, and here, in which account is taken of the competing teams’ size, country GDP and other factors.  In a BBC report Professor David Forrest, a sports economist at the University of Salford, is quoted as saying that there is virtually no chance that anyone from a poor country can win a medal in four sports – equestrian, sailing, cycling and swimming, citing the example of Ethiopia which has one swimming pool for every six million people.  Wrestling, judo, weightlifting and gymnastics, he says, tend to be the best sports for developing nations.

Of the total number of Olympic medals ever awarded, 15% have been won by the United States and 60% by Europe, a consequence of their extreme wealth and high populations, according to Stefan Szymanski, Professor of Sports Management at the University of Michigan.  He attributes much of Team GB’s success to Lottery funding in the 90s and its use to build up elite teams.

London Olympics 2012 – Summoned by Bells?

At 08-12 tomorrow morning, anyone with access to any type of bell, from those on cycles to those in church towers, is encouraged to ring them ‘as quickly and as loudly as possible for three minutes’.  This is to form part of Work No. 1197, devised by Turner Prize-winning artist and musician Martin Creed and commissioned by the London 2012 Festival to mark the start of the Olympic and Paralympics.  Continue reading

The Commuters, the Churches, and the Coalition

Readers of the Industry Soundings column in Environmental Law and Management will be aware of recent attempts to improve the regulation of scrap dealers, and the apparent reluctance of government to introduce adequate controls.  The media have increased the general awareness of the issue and of the particular problems encountered by commuters and many churches as a result of thefts of copper and lead, respectively.  There have, however, been two notable developments: repeated attempts by MPs, the public, and others to secure changes to the law relating to scrap dealers; and the proactive involvement of the Church of England and its request to members to lobby their MPs.


Metal theft is not a new phenomenon, and as early as 1781, the Criminal Law Act criminalized the offence which attracted a penalty of seven years’ transportation to Australia, though by the standards of the day this was not particularly severe – Lord Hardwicke’s Marriage Act of 1753 made fraudulent alteration of marriage records punishable by ‘Death as a Felon without Benefit of Clergy’, and the irregular solemnization of marriage by transportation to His Majesty’s Plantations in America’ for 14 years.

Hansard provides ample evidence as to the unenthusiastic implementation and reporting of these and subsequent provisions relating to metal theft, [See: ‘Old and New Metal Dealers’ in the current issue of Industry Soundings] but also identifies the current problems which have arisen as a result of the increasing value of scrap metal.

–       Copper cables are the major target in the electricity industry, and on 6th September 2011, the House of Commons was informed that the number of reported metal thefts rose from 100 per month in 2009 to 700 per month in 2011.  The Association of Chief Police Officers put the annual cost of metal theft to the communications, energy, transport and water industries at £770M per annum;

–       The Fourteenth Report of the Commons Transport Committee – Cable theft on the railway, ordered to be printed on 24th January 2012, indicated that in 2010/11 cable theft caused the delay or cancellation of over 35,000 national rail services and cost Network Rail over £16M;

–       On the 19 January 2012, the Church Commissioners reported to the House that in 2011 more than 2,500 churches suffered thefts of lead, and that the cost of the resulting claims was about £4.6M. Each of those claims represents a loss to a local community and a distraction to parishes from using their resources for local community life.  Subsequent information from the CofE’s ChurchCare site indicates that: this had incurred a cost of £27.5M over the past six years; and in excess of 2500 claims had been made to Ecclesiastical Insurance in 2011

In addition to these Parliamentary Statements, awareness was raised through two Early Day Motions, here and here, a Private Member’s Bill, below, and numerous e-petitions, which included the following none too helpful Ban the Scrapman suggestion:

‘Scrapmen are a bane on society, not least because of the public nuisance they cause by blaring their horn every day.  There is a big problem in this country with metal theft and I believe stopping this practice would go some way to preventing it.

At the time of posting this had received only 7 supporters compared with the 58,374 supporters of Cashless Scrap Metal Trade – Amendment to Scrap Metal Merchants Act 1964 e-petition to prohibit cash transactions.

Graham Jones’ Private Members’ Metal Theft (Prevention) Bill, which was given a first reading under the ten minute rule on 15 November 2011, failed to gain government backing and in a Written Ministerial Statement on 30 January 2012, the Home Secretary announced her intention to bring in more restricted provisions through an amendment to the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill.  The Act received Royal Assent on 1 May 2012 and through sections 145 to 147 amends the Scrap Metal Dealers Act 1964 to increase the penalties for offences relating to scrap metal dealing and create a new offence relating to payment for scrap.

Lord Rosser attempted to close a loophole in these provisions through a proposed amendment to the Protection of Freedoms Bill, which would have given the police further powers of entry to enter and inspect known or suspected scrap metal dealer premises, regardless of whether they were registered.  However, this was narrowly defeated in the Lords on 6 February by 201 votes to 195.

The latest attempt to modify the current legislative regime is through Richard Ottaway’s Private Members Bill introduced in the Commons on 20 June 2012, which will: repeal the Scrap Metal Dealers Act 1964 and Part 1 of Vehicles (Crime) Act 2001; introduce tougher applications requirements for dealer’s licence; give greater powers to the police and local authorities to suspend and revoke licences of illegal operators; and create a single national register of licensed dealers.


Given that the Ottaway Bill has government backing, it stands a greater chance of success than earlier attempts, but raises two questions. Would this backing have been given if there had not been significant external pressure? And why was the ‘quick fix’ Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act chosen as the preferred route when Ottaway’s proposed replacement of the Scrap Metal Dealers’ Act is anticipated to come into force this autumn? [The Explanatory Note perhaps supplies an answer in its comment: ‘a period of at least six months will be required between Royal Assent and commencement to allow licensing authorities to put in place suitable infrastructure to meet the new demands’.]

With regard to church involvement, in the past the ‘Legislation and Policy’ pages of the (Roman) Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales have been an exemplar in good communications to the laity and clergy through providing with a wide range of material to use in relation to current areas of interest, including: briefing documents; parish resource packs; updates; official statements; and guidance on participation in government consultations.  [Following the site’s redesign, information is provided on an issue-specific basis, such as the response to the same-sex marriage consultation.]

The information on metal theft on the ChurchCare web pages picks up on this practice and includes: a request from the Archbishops’ Council to write to MPs by 12 July asking them to support the Bill; a link to Richard Ottaway’s web page explaining the Bill; Metal Theft Reports for 2010 and 2011; advice on security from ChurchCare and the insurers, Ecclesiastical.  In addition, the ChurchCare Summer 2012 e-Bulletin featured ‘How you can support the new anti-metal theft bill’.

One suspects that the average member of the CofE is not in the habit of writing to his or her MP, (or is necessarily a recipient of the ChurchCare e-bulletin), but this approach to greater involvement of the laity (and clergy) is to be welcomed and encouraged.