The Beijing Winter Olympics is fraught with potential threats to major sponsors, who are trying to keep quiet about China’s human rights record while protecting at least $1 billion paid collectively to the IOC.
When new figures are expected this year, it could reach $2 billion. Sponsors include big household names like Coca-Cola, Procter & Gamble, Visa, Toyota, Airbnb and Panasonic.
The so-called TOP sponsors of the International Olympic Committee are being squeezed by a diplomatic boycott led by the United States, the economic power of 1.4 billion Chinese – and fear of reprisal by China’s authoritarian government.
China itself was part of a complete boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympics.
“They (sponsors) are trying to walk a fine line between trying to get the best performance possible, but not trying to be too close to the actions of the Chinese government,” said Mark Conrad, who heads sports law and ethics at Fordham. teach, the university’s Gabelli School of Business said in an email.
The IOC caused tension by returning to a country whose rights abuses were well documented leading to the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics. Now they are vying for the attention of the pandemic, with the Winter Games starting on February 4.
Violations of rights committed against Muslim Uighurs and other minorities conflict with the higher principles in the Olympic Charter. The Charter speaks of “sports in the service of the harmonious development of mankind, with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the protection of human dignity”.
It further adds: “The enjoyment of the rights and freedoms set forth in this Olympic Charter shall be protected without discrimination of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, sexual orientation, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.”
The Associated Press contacted most major Olympic sponsors, but was met with silence about their plans, or that the focus was on the athletes. A sponsor responded, with German financial services company Allianz saying it was “in regular contact with the IOC” and stood behind the ideals of the Games.
A person in contact with the sponsors, who was not authorized to speak and asked not to be named, said the general mood, especially for those focused outside of the China market, referred to Beijing. Had to avoid doing it and work around the edges.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if sponsors keep quiet,” said De Hee Kak, director of the Center for Sports Marketing at the University of Michigan. “You could potentially lose business.”
Vengeance is a matter of concern. The NBA experienced this in 2019 when a Houston Rockets executive made a tweet with an opposition to democracy in Hong Kong, Last month, Olympic sponsor Intel had to apologize after publishing a letter on its website calling on suppliers to China Was told to avoid sourcing from Xinjiang region.
Sponsors usually saturate the space around the Olympics. Less so now with lucrative hospitality programs also sheltered by the pandemic.
“The silence of the sponsors speaks volumes – more than any news release,” wrote Conrad, a professor of sports law at Fordham.
The Tokyo Olympics, delayed by the pandemic, stunned the sponsors. Fans were banned, officials closed an enclosure full of sponsors, and Toyota, one of Japan’s three major Olympic sponsors, took its ads off local TV to avoid being associated with the Olympics. . This raised questions about the sponsors seeking compensation from the IOC.
The games were unpopular in Japan when they opened, but surveys showed they were considered successful once they closed.
When asked about its plans for Beijing, Toyota spokeswoman Rina Naruke offered the following to the Associated Press in a brief statement.
“We are unable to provide any specific details at this time. We’ll update you when we get more information.”
Terence Burns, who has worked for the IOC in marketing and branding but is better known as an independent consultant who helped land five successful Olympic bids, disputes the suggestion that the Beijing Olympics are too different. were, or that the sponsors were treading lightly.
“The marketing opportunity for Beijing 2022 has always been the ability to promote Chinese sports in the Chinese market; as was the case for the 2008 Games,” Burns wrote in an email to the Associated Press.
“The biggest business impact of the Beijing Games for Top Partners will be in the Chinese market. And really, it’s not much different from any previous games.”
Burns said the IOC’s sponsors had been in it for a long time. Coca-Cola has been associated with the Olympics since 1928, and the next few Games look promising financially.
“I see zero commercial evidence of any consumer backlash or concern against a top partner. None,” Burns wrote.
The upcoming Olympics 2024 are in Paris, followed by Milan-Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy and Los Angeles. The IOC has also announced Brisbane, Australia, for the 2032 Summer Olympics, and Sapporo, Japan as a top contender for the 2030 Winter Games.
Host cities are no longer chosen in the bidding process, which was subject to well-reported corruption by some rank-and-file IOC members. IOC leadership now selects locations with rubber-stamp approval from members.
IOC sponsors have come under pressure from human rights advocates and some members of the US Congress, who have called for the Olympics to be moved or a complete boycott. Last month an informal body set up in Britain concluded that the Chinese government had committed genocide and crimes against humanity.
China has called it a “lie of the century” and said the internment camps in northwestern Xinjiang are used for on-the-job training.
The five US-based sponsors — Coca-Cola, Intel, Airbnb, Procter & Gamble, and Visa — were introduced in July at a bipartisan hearing by the Congressional Executive Committee on China.
Most dodging questions were vetoed, saying they had to abide by Chinese law, had nothing to do with choosing Beijing as the venue, and focused on athletes, no matter what the sport.
Intel’s Steven Rodgers, an executive vice president and general counsel, was only one of five to say he believed the US State Department’s conclusion that China was “committing genocide against the Uighur people.”
Olympic sponsors and NBCUniversal, the United States broadcast rights holder, were asked in a letter to Human Rights Watch to be aware of the rights environment in China and to investigate supply chains.
President Joe Biden signed a bill last month that bans goods made in northwestern China’s Xinjiang region unless companies can show that forced labor was not involved.
NBC has paid $7.75 billion for the next six Olympics (from 2022 to 2032) and the network accounts for about 40% of the total income of the IOC, which serves as its main partner. It has started promoting the Olympics in the United States but makes reference to Beijing.
IOC President Thomas Bach has repeatedly said that the Olympics should be “politically neutral”. But they rarely happen. At the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, four years ago, Bach aggressively promoted his bid to advance talks between the two Koreas.
Late last year, the United Nations General Assembly approved an Olympic cease-fire resolution with the consent of 193 member states; 173 co-sponsored the resolution.
However, 20 countries, including the United States, Britain, Japan, Canada, Australia, India and North Korea, did not sign up as co-sponsors. The United States and Australia are future Olympic hosts, Japan has just held the Summer Olympics and is a candidate for 2030, and North Korea is a staunch ally of China.
Bach has declined to condemn the alleged genocide or speak on human rights in China. He rarely mentions Uighurs by name.
“Our entire focus is on the athletes,” Bach said. “We welcome that they can participate, that they are supported by their national governments. The rest is politics.”
Tali Arbel contributed from New York and Yuri Kageyama from Tokyo.
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