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LONDON, July 18 (Reuters) - U.S. companies McDonald's and Coca-Cola said they would waive their right to tax exemption on earnings from the Olympic Games in London, an issue that has fuelled criticism of Games sponsors.
British lobby group 38 Degrees has gathered almost 165,000 signatures for an online petition under the banner "Stop Olympic Tax Dodging" urging sponsors to turn down the tax breaks.
It claimed victory on Wednesday, posting "Two down!" after both companies confirmed they would not be using the exemption.
However, both companies said they had not planned to use the exemption, a condition of London's bid to host the Games, and denied that they had been influenced by the campaign.
"Coca-Cola has never intended to, and will not be making, any corporate or income tax exemption claim with respect to any activity concerning our involvement with the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games," the soft drinks company said.
McDonald's also said its decision was made some time ago and pre-dated the protest.
The fast food chain said its revenue from the Games would be less than 0.1 percent of its annual UK sales. The company will be setting up four temporary restaurants at the Olympic Park during the Olympics which start on July 27.
Coca-Cola and McDonald's are two of 11 international companies who pay almost $1 billion to sponsor Winter and Summer Olympics over a four-year cycle.
International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Jacques Rogge has praised the two companies after he was initially quoted as saying there was a "question mark" over their sponsorship due to obesity concerns.
Foreign athletes competing in the Games are also exempt from British income tax. Sports stars who come to Britain for other tournaments are normally liable to pay tax on their earnings and a proportion of their worldwide endorsement income.