James Max: Atos is the right sponsor for the Paralympics


Protesters must stop wasting their breath over Atos. Its work and its sponsorship are perfectly ethical

The main sponsor of the Paralympic Games should be congratulated and not chastised. The company is undertaking its business in accordance with the law and they can sponsor whatever events they wish.

If you don’t like it? Tough. Put up the money and sponsor the event yourself if you feel that strongly about it.

Why is Atos, a French IT consultancy business and sponsor of the Paralympic Games at the centre of a massive protest? They are contracted by the UK government to review disability payments. Take something away from people that they have got used to receiving and they’ll be uproar. Add to the mix that it’s a benefit for disabled people and that it’s not fair that they go through a vetting process to achieve the government’s aims to ensure those who claim benefits really deserve them, and there’s every ingredient for an explosive mix.

The protestors assume the IT company in question pockets millions from the government for doing its ‘dirty work’. Could it be that the company is actually doing a job that needs to be done?

“Protestors claim the means testing exercise conducted by Atos isn’t fair. Get used to it. Life is unfair. It’s unfair that some are born with a disability”

Perhaps the deficit we have in this great nation of ours is because of previous incompetence at government level?

Money was handed out in a modern day form of gerrymandering – buying goodwill through a benefits system that’s more generous than it should be. Now we are tackling the problem and making sure only those who deserve the benefits receive them.

Protestors claim the means testing exercise being conducted by Atos isn’t fair. Get used to it. Life is unfair. It’s unfair that some are born with a disability. It’s unfair that some have had limbs removed as a result of illness or injury or through having fought on behalf of their country. It’s unfair that some will live longer than others. Indeed it’s unfair that those who work have to pay tax to support those who, in many cases, cannot be bothered.

So, who are Atos? A company many had never heard of is now centre stage, thanks to their sponsorship deal. Job done by senior management! To the protestors, it’s of little consequence that the company has supported these games since 2001. So, also, is the scale of the business: operating in 48 countries with 74,000 employees this is a behemoth of an IT consultancy firm. Generating global annual revenues of over £5.5bn, it has an enviable roster of clients. A small proportion of its business is for the UK government.

The firm provides IT services to the UK Border Agency. OK, so the firm was blamed for IT systems issues that caused delays in the run up to the Olympic Games. Not ideal, but not a basis for protest.

The second and more significant government contract is with Atos Healthcare, a sub-division of the main company employing over 3,000 people. The contract with the Department for Work and Pensions is worth about £400m, managing a business process outsourcing contract. In essence, it is the job of this Atos subsidiary to review the disability benefits received by claimants. With some being turned down and assessments being carried out with varying degrees of sensitivity, there is some disquiet over their sponsorship deal. The protests are unfounded. Just because the company is streamlining payments does not make them an unsuitable sponsor.

With any large contract there will be problems. Indeed, with any cut to any allowances there will be genuine cases where the wrong decision is taken. However, that is no basis for protests.

The pious should get off their high horses and realise that if you want to host something, you need sponsors. I certainly don’t want the taxpayer to foot any more bills, thanks. The more we can get out of the big corporates the better.

Indeed, if some of the profits generated by this company as a result of their UK contracts help host an event such as the Paralympics, whose legacy will be of improved sporting facilities and training combined with a much better public awareness and acceptance of disability, then I am all in favour.

“This notion that the Olympic and Paralympic Games are some kind of wholesome sporting event that should be untouched by the commercial world is as ridiculous as it is pathetic”

Most disabled people I know just want to be able to get on with their lives.

They don’t want sympathy or special treatment. They just want an opportunity to show that they are every bit as able, determined and capable as their able bodied counterparts. Shame on us for discriminating. And shame on us for allowing protests of this nature to cloud the real issues.

This notion that the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games are some kind of wholesome sporting event that should be untouched by the commercial world is as ridiculous as it is pathetic.

Sport is massive business. It creates global superstars who themselves often earn multi-millions. Brands, manufacturers and tech companies make a mint and so do broadcasters and publishers around the world. Why? Because we love to watch sport. We like to buy the kit they wear, use the equipment they use and get sucked into the whole emotion that sporting events bring us. That extraordinary fusion of human endeavour with collective shared experience and excitement provides an irresistible cocktail for big corporates. Not only does someone have to foot the bill to host events but for that investment they’ll expect a return – and rightly so.

In the run-up to the Olympics Games there was outcry that soft drink manufacturers and fast food restaurants were among those companies sponsoring the main event. This is about being healthy and children and sport, they said. Wrong. This is about making sport commercially viable.

The golden arches and fizzy bubbles enveloped the games and gave us a warm cuddly feeling. The main event was an extraordinary success. The dissent died down and most realised that we had all benefited from the sponsors’ deep pockets.

Indeed many of us recognise that you have a choice. If you don’t want to go to McDonald’s or drink Coca-Cola, no one’s forcing you to. Personally I like what they do, support their globalised approach and appreciate that their size and commercial muscle (and money) makes our lives better.

If the Paralympic Games tell us anything, it’s that for too long as a society we have made judgments about the skills and capabilities of those with some form of physical disability. We’ve been too critical of the role of investors and corporates and what they can do for us. As the games continue it’s not bravery that we are witnessing but dedication, talent and human endeavour. It’s truly awe-inspiring.

If they tell us something else, it is that we have got our benefits system pretty much wrong for the past 40 years. We have not provided facilities and help, training and opportunity but simply paid people off to keep them quiet. Strip benefits away from those who don’t need them by all means, but let’s make sure the legacy of these games is that never again will we treat those with a disability as second class citizens and never again will we criticise corporates who make a real and lasting difference by sponsoring the greatest events on earth.

James Max presents Weekend Breakfast every Saturday and Sunday mornings on London’s Biggest Conversation, LBC 97.3 FM. He is a qualified surveyor and worked in property and finance for 15 years. After working for one of the country’s leading property advisory firms, he completed healthy stints in investment banking and private equity, before becoming a candidate on The Apprentice, which launched a career in broadcast media.
Visit JamesMax.co.uk.