Most of the IOC’s major sponsors fell silent in the run-up to the Beijing Olympics

Most of the IOC’s major sponsors fell silent in the run-up to the Beijing Olympics

That could reach $2 billion when new figures are expected this year. Sponsors include big household names like Coca-Cola, Procter & Gamble, Visa, Toyota, Airbnb, and Panasonic.

So-called IOC sponsors are under pressure from the US-led diplomatic boycott, the economic power of 1.4 billion Chinese – and the fear of retribution from China’s authoritarian government.

China itself was part of a complete boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympics.

“They (the sponsors) are trying to walk a fine line between trying to get the best offer, but also not trying to be seen as being too close to the actions of the Chinese government,” Mark Conrad, who studies sports law and ethics at Fordham University’s Gabilley School of Business in Email message.

The IOC caused tension by returning to a country whose rights abuses were well documented in the run-up to the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. They are now battling the pandemic for attention with the Winter Games opening on February 4.

Rights abuses against Uyghur Muslims and other minorities run counter to the lofty principles of the Olympic Charter. The charter speaks of placing “sports at the service of the harmonious development of mankind, with the aim of promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity”.

He adds: “The enjoyment of the rights and freedoms set forth in this Olympic Charter shall be guaranteed 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 any other situation.

The Associated Press contacted most of the major Olympic sponsors, but was met with largely silence about their plans, or told that the focus was on the athletes. One of the sponsors who responded, German financial services company Allianz, said it was “in regular contact with the IOC” and supports 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 case, especially for those focused outside the Chinese market, was to avoid mentioning Beijing and work to push the boundaries.

“I wouldn’t be surprised the sponsors were keeping quiet,” said Dae Hee Kwak, director of the University of Michigan’s Center for Sports Marketing. “You are likely to lose your job.”

Revenge is a concern. The National Basketball Association tested it in 2019 when a Houston Rockets executive sided with democracy protests in Hong Kong, last month, Olympic sponsor Intel had to apologize after posting a message on its website asking suppliers to avoid sourcing from Xinjiang. Chinese.

Sponsors usually saturate the space around the Olympic Games. Less so now with lucrative hospitality programs that the pandemic has also halted.

“The silence of the sponsors speaks volumes – more than any press release can,” wrote Conrad, professor of sports law at Fordham.

The Tokyo Olympics, which have been delayed due to the pandemic, have hampered sponsors. Fans were banned, officials closed a container full of the sponsor’s marquee, and Toyota, one of Japan’s three major Olympic sponsors, pulled its ads from local television to avoid being associated with the Olympics. This raised the issue of sponsors claiming compensation from the International Olympic Committee.

The games were unpopular in Japan when they opened, but polls showed they were a success once they closed.

In response to a question about Beijing’s planning, Toyota spokeswoman Rina Naruki provided the following to the Associated Press in a brief statement.

“We are unable to provide any specific details at this time. We will update you as soon as we have more information.”

Terence Burns, who has worked with the IOC on marketing and branding but is best known as an independent consultant who helped win five successful Olympic bids, questioned the suggestion that the Beijing Olympics were entirely different, or that the sponsors were going too light.

The marketing opportunity for Beijing 2022 has always been the ability to promote the Chinese Games in the Chinese market; As was the case for the 2008 games,” Burns wrote in an email to the AP.

The biggest commercial impact of the Beijing Games will be for the best partners in the Chinese market. Realistically, this is not much different from any previous games.”

Burns said IOC sponsors have been there for a long time. Coca-Cola has been linked to the Olympics since 1928, and the next few games look promising financially.

“I see no commercial evidence of consumer backlash or concern against any major partner. None,” Burns wrote.

The next Olympic Games are 2024 in Paris, followed by Milan, Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy, and Los Angeles. The International Olympic Committee has also announced Brisbane, Australia, to host the 2032 Summer Olympics, and Sapporo, Japan, as the number one contender for the 2030 Winter Games.

Host cities are no longer selected in the bidding process, which has been subject to well-reported corruption by some IOC members. The IOC leadership now selects venues with the approval of a rubber stamp from the 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 unofficial body set up in Britain concluded that the Chinese government had committed genocide and crimes against humanity.

China has called this the “lie of the century” and says burial camps in northwest Xinjiang are used for job training.

The five US-based sponsors – Coca-Cola, Intel, Airbnb, Procter & Gamble and Visa – were questioned at a two-party hearing in July by the Congressional Executive Committee on China.

Most of the evasive oriented questions said they had to follow Chinese law, had nothing to do with the choice of Beijing as the venue, and focused on the athletes regardless of the Games.

Stephen Rodgers of Intel, executive vice president and general counsel, was the only one of five who said he believed the State Department’s conclusions that China was “committing genocide against the Uyghur people.”

Olympic sponsors and NBCUniversal, the US broadcasting rights holder, were asked in a letter from Human Rights Watch to be aware of the rights climate in China, and to vet supply chains.

President Joe Biden signed a bill last month that would ban goods made in China’s northwest Xinjiang region, unless companies show forced labor is not involved.

NBC has paid $7.75 billion for the next six Olympic Games (2022 through 2032) and the network represents nearly 40% of the IOC’s total income, serving as its lead partner. She started promoting the Olympics in the United States but played down references to Beijing.

Thomas Bach, president of the International Olympic Committee, has repeatedly said that the Olympics should be “politically neutral”, but that it rarely is. Four years ago at the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, Bach vigorously promoted his attempt to lead inter-Korean talks.

Late last year, the United Nations General Assembly approved the Olympic Truce Resolution unanimously by its 193 member states; 173 Co-sponsored the resolution.

However, 20 countries did not join the sponsoring nations including the United States, Britain, Japan, Canada, Australia, India and North Korea. The United States and Australia are the future hosts of the Olympics, Japan has just hosted the Summer Olympics and is a candidate for 2030, and North Korea is China’s strongest ally.

Bach refused to condemn the alleged genocide or speak out about human rights in China. Uyghurs are rarely mentioned by name.

“We have our entire focus on the athletes,” Bach said. We welcome their ability to participate, and the support of their national governments. The rest is politics.

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Tali Arbel contributed from New York, and Yuri Kageyama contributed from Tokyo.

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More from the AP Winter Olympics: https://apnews.com/hub/winter-olympics and https://twitter.com/AP—Sports

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