Public Relations News | Why sponsors shouldn’t boycott the Olympics

Fraser seitel

Years ago, The New York Times used to include something called a “sports section,” which dealt with hot topics such as basketball, baseball, and football, often including highlights from college and pro games. His sports commentary, written by legendary journalists such as Red Smith, Dave Anderson, George Vecsey and Harvey Araton, was often an inspiring read.

Today, of course, the new, improved, more awake?Time still claims to have a “sports section”, but it really doesn’t. Gone are the days of daily reporting on college or professional sports, with the notable exception of America’s best coverage of the ever popular Italian and British football leagues.

Above all, what passes for “sport” in the Time These days, there are columns from writers like Kurt Streeter, whose pace, according to the newspaper, covers “the connection between sport and society at large, especially when it comes to issues of race, gender and social justice ”. As a result, Mr. Streeter’s columns touched on sports topics such as:

  • Why the Commissioner of Major League Baseball should be called out for allowing Atlanta Braves fans to do racist “tomahawk chop” during games.
  • Why the National Football League commissioner should be called out for allowing racist tweets from fired Las Vegas Raiders coach Jon Gruden.
  • Why the International Olympic Committee should be called for its racist suspension of American sprinter Sha’Carri Richardson, who violated IOC rules banning the use of marijuana.
  • Why the affluent Seattle neighborhood in which Mr. Streeter’s family has lived for six decades should be called out for the “pain and disappointment” at the latent racism he still feels in his daily jog.

Last week, following the Biden administration’s announcement that it would not send officials to the Olympics in China, Mr Streeter took a critical look at companies such as Coca-Cola and Visa which will sponsor the Olympic Games. Coke and his corporate cohorts should be arraigned, he argued, for supporting a country where human rights atrocities include the abuse of Muslim minorities.

“Instead of using their considerable influence to defend human rights boldly in China – or even louder, speaking boldly and raising the stakes entirely,” pleaded Mr. Streeter, “the corporate sponsors who support the games and use the Olympics as a marketing tool. put profits before morality.

Presumably, many PR professionals agree with Mr. Streeter. Why shouldn’t Coca-Cola and the other corporate sponsors boycott the Olympic Games in China?

Here’s why.

The “profits” of businesses benefit many people in many places.

Coca-Cola is in business to sell what was once called “soda pop” and now includes juices, teas and flavored waters. This is what he does and what he should be focusing on.

Coke and its independent bottling partners employ 700,000 people, operating in more than 200 countries. All these people in all these countries depend on Coca-Cola for profit. When Coke sponsors world events like the Olympics, it makes more money, and some of that money ends up in the pockets of those 700,000 people who use it to feed, clothe and house their families.

Thus, the greater the benefits of Coca-Cola, the better the results for hundreds of thousands of families around the world. This is the gist and a detail that, alas, anti-business fanatics like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren and Alexandria Occasio-Cortez and apparently Mr. Streeter are either oblivious or unwilling to acknowledge.

Without sponsors, Olympic participants would receive little recognition.

Famous Olympians, like gymnast Simone Biles or swimmer Michael Phelps, are clearly outliers.

Most Olympians, who spend their entire lives training for events such as weightlifting, water polo, table tennis and curling, work in the dark. They scrimp and save to fulfill their passion, yearning for a time when they can compete on the world stage once every four years.

Their ability to step onto the world stage, to be seen and recognized and perhaps even to achieve fame and fortune is a direct result of the willingness of corporations to spend millions of dollars to sponsor the Olympics around the world. .

Even Mr Streeter, in his screeching of callous corporate sponsors, explained how this year’s host nation’s dismal human rights record has created “an unfair position for the Olympics workforce. , most of whom toil for years in obscure sports. who barely pay the bills.

Of course, he then fails to make the connection between sponsorship support and the potential fulfillment of Olympians’ dreams of accomplishment.

Corporate “morality” is essential, but each business must determine for itself how that morality should manifest.

In a society where belief in “capitalism” has waned, especially in the eyes of young people, it is more urgent than ever that companies live by the mantra of “doing the right thing”.

But that doesn’t mean every business has to become a Patagonia or Ben & Jerry’s that embraces all causes of environmental or social justice, no matter how controversial or obscure. The audiences of many SOEs are extremely diverse in their political and social preferences; Thus, before taking a public position on a particular issue, a business must first consider the risks in terms of alienation from a key group on which it depends for its support or income.

Coca-Cola is a good example. Last spring, when Georgia’s legislature passed stricter election law, Atlanta-based Coke publicly condemned the law. As might be expected, the company’s statement was praised by some, criticized by others. But Coke made a difficult choice to support its many local employees who were very committed to the law.

Supporting the Olympics is a separate judgment. Said Paul Lalli, Coke’s global vice president for human affairs, “We don’t make decisions on these hospitality sites. We support and follow athletes wherever they compete.

There are many ways businesses can show their moral outrage.

Finally, just because a company supports the Olympics does not mean it cannot also support organizations opposed to human rights violations.

The list of American companies supporting the human rights of women, people of color, people of all faiths, etc. is unlimited. For example, the Business Coalition for the Equality Act, which would specifically protect LGBTQ people, has 400 companies, the largest business coalition ever created to support the LGBTQ community.

The point is that a large corporation today would be foolish not to take advantage of any opportunity to strengthen its respect for and support for human rights.

Coca-Cola has donated over $ 1 billion to “create a culture of diversity, equity and inclusion” in the communities in which it operates. But in repressive countries like China, where Coke and other big companies (including Patagonia) have factories suspected of being linked to the forced labor of Muslim minorities, the balance between profit and morality is complicated.

Responding to such allegations in its operations in China, Coke says it “strictly prohibits any kind of forced labor in our supply chain” and uses third-party auditors to closely monitor its suppliers. In the case of her suspicious Chinese operation, Coke says she “successfully completed an audit in 2019”.

It is clearly not enough to appease its detractors. It’s much easier to shout “boycott!” When you are not responsible for people’s lives or livelihoods.


Fraser P. Seitel has been a communications consultant, author and teacher for 40 years. He is the author of Pearson’s 14th edition “The Practice of Public Relations” and co-author of “Rethinking Reputation” and “Idea Wise”. He can be contacted directly at [email protected]

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