Seal clubbing isn't an Olympic event, is it?

An unusual campaign by PETA attempts to link the 2010 Games to the seal hunt

The brightly coloured inukshuk that serves as the symbol of the Vancouver 2010 Olympics is, according to the official bumpf, “an eternal expression of the hospitality of a nation that warmly welcomes the people of the world with open arms every day.” It even has a name—Ilanaaq—the Inuktitut word for friend.

seal_hunt_olympicsBut People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), the U.S.-based animal rights organization, has come up with a decidedly less wholesome version of the 2010 Games’ most visible trademark: The iconic stone man clubbing a baby seal to death as blood drips from the Olympic rings.

The parody is prominently featured on the group’s website and is serving as the centerpiece of a year-long anti-Games campaign, meant to pressure Canadian politicians to bring an end to the East Coast seal hunt. “This is a time when the whole world is looking at Canada, and it’s a perfect occasion for the country to remove a bloody stain from its international reputation,” says Colleen Higgins, the Atlanta-based organizer of the campaign. “It’s perfect time for the government to step up.”

PETA happily acknowledges the absence of any direct—or even indirect—connection between next year’s international sporting event on the West Coast, and the long-controversial part of the Atlantic fishery, but makes no apologies for hijacking the Games to grab headlines. “What we’re known for is eye-catching demos,” says Higgins. (In recent years, the organization’s greatest media exposure has come through anti-fur ad campaigns featuring semi-naked celebrities.) On Thursday, they fired their most recent salvo: spreading fake blood on the ice of Ottawa’s Rideau Canal. “It represents the hundreds of thousands of seals who lose their lives on the floes off the East Coast every year,” says Higgins. More protests are planned for later this month in Toronto, and at Canadian embassies and consulates around the globe.

So far, VANOC, the Games organizing committee, is taking a low-key approach to the appropriation of Ilanaaq. Although the Olympic movement is legendarily litigious when it comes to protecting its trademarks from unauthorized commercial use, it tends to let parody, satires and artistic representations slide by. VANOC reps declined to comment on-the-record about the PETA campaign, and clearly have little interest in adding fuel to the fire with legal action.

However, the animal rights group, a long-time opponent of the seal hunt, believes its stunts are working, particularly overseas. A recent viral campaign in Germany—which saw the creation of a fake heavy metal band called The Canadians, with a signature tune “Kill, kill,” is up for an advertising award next month. The spoof, created by the Hamburg office of Springer and Jacoby, spread fake tour posters with Iron Maiden style graphics around the country. A Myspace page and Youtube video offered links to PETA, and on-line petitions. Sonia Dicke, a firm representative says the campaign generated 300,000 clicks a week at its height last summer, and that to date, more than 4,500 of the “bands” T-shirts have been sold. And the musicians who performed the anti-sealing dirge—a real heavy metal act called Blackened White—will perform a one-off gig as The Canadians next month at the Art Director’s award ceremonies in Berlin. “It’s a very serious evening,” says Dicke. “Last year, Karl Lagerfeld was there.”