Saturday, August 09, 2008

The 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics – let the political/business pageantry begin

The Games of the 29th Olympiad began Friday with a lavish opening ceremony. The four and a half hour presentation was capped off by the lighting of the Olympic torch. Steeped in controversy as it worked it’s was around the world – the moment in time when the torch was finally lit will forever stand as a sad testament to what the Beijing Olympics will be about – the Chinese government spending whatever it takes to deliver the biggest (and in their minds) best Olympics ever, while paying little if any attention to the truth!

How was the flame finally lit Friday evening a Beijing’s Bird Nest Stadium? This from The London Telegraph offers a pretty good overview: Former champion gymnast Li Ning, took hold of the final torch in the 80,000 mile relay, was hoisted high above the crowd on a wire and 'ran' a lap around the rim of the stadium .

Lighting a giant fuse, he ignited the colossal torch, which had been hidden from view and lowered into place just moments before, as the four hour ceremony reached its climax.

He was chosen for the honor ahead of other candidates such as Liu Xiang, current Olympic 110m hurdles champion, and He Zhenliang, China's foremost Olympic dignitary.

Li became China's favourite Olympian after captivating his countrymen in winning three gymnastics gold medals at the Los Angeles games in 1984.

Having earned the accolade "prince of gymnastics" he went on to launch a sportswear company bearing his name, which is rapidly catching up more well-known international brands.

But while Li, 44, is regarded as a hero in China he is rather less popular with Adidas since being selected to lift the curtain on the 29th Olympiad, which the German company is sponsoring to the tune of £50 million.

A source at a leading sportswear brand said: "I can't imagine Adidas will be too happy at paying all that money to sponsor the games, only to see a rival stepping up to light the Olympic flame."

Li was the last of a number of former Chinese Olympians to receive the torch in the stadium. In a dramatic climax, Li, was hoisted high above the stadium on wires.

In slow-motion, he simulated racing around the rim before setting the giant Olympic cauldron ablaze. As Li appeared to be racing around the upper reaches of the stadium images of the Olympic torch relay appeared in the background – the 2008 Olympic torch relay that may have been a good idea but didn’t quite turnout the way the International Olympic Committee and the Chinese Olympic Organizing had hoped it would.

The 2008 Summer Olympics Torch Relay ran until August 8, 2008, prior to the Games of the XXIX Olympiad. Plans for the relay were announced on April 26, 2007, in Beijing,

The relay, with the theme "Journey of Harmony", is expected[2] to last 129 days and carry the torch 137,000 km (85,000 mi) — the longest distance of any Olympic torch relay since the National Socialist German Workers' Party (the Nazis’) started the tradition at the 1936 Berlin Olympics.

After being lit at the birthplace of the Olympic Games in Olympia, Greece on March 24, the torch traveled to the Panathinaiko Stadium in Athens, and then to Beijing, arriving on March 31. From Beijing, the plan was for the torch to follow a route that would see the torch pass through six continents. The torch was to visit many cities along the Silk Road, symbolizing ancient links between China and the rest of the world. The relay also included an ascent with the flame to the top of Mount Everest on the border of Nepal and Tibet, China from the Chinese side, which was closed specially for the event.

In many cities along the route, the torch relay was met by protesters representing a range of political issues, particularly those related to China's human rights record, the recent unrest in Tibet, the war in Darfur, China's support to regimes in Myanmar and Zimbabwe, North Korean defectors, territorial disputes over the Spratly and Paracel Islands with Vietnam, Falun Gong persecution and the political status of Taiwan, resulting in violence at various locations.

The protests, which ranged from tens of thousands of people in San Francisco, to effectively none in Pyongyang, finally forced the path of the torch relay to be changed or shortened on a number of occasions. The torch was extinguished by Chinese security officials several times during the Paris leg for security reasons.

The protests in Europe were described as "despicable" by the Chinese government, condemning them as "deliberate disruptions...who gave no thought to the Olympic spirit or the laws of Britain and France" and who "tarnish the lofty Olympic spirit", and vowed they would continue with the relay and not allow the protests to "impede the Olympic spirit". Large-scale counter-protests by overseas Chinese and foreign-based Chinese nationals became prevalent in later segments of the relay.

Prompted by the chaotic torch relays in Europe and North America, the president of the International Olympic Committee, Jacques Rogge described the situation as a "crisis" for the organization and stated that any athletes displaying Tibetan flags at Olympic venues could be expelled from the games, though he stopped short of cancelling the relay altogether despite calls to do so by some IOC members.

The Chinese told the story the way they wanted to Friday night. In the climax to their $100,000 Olympic Opening Ceremonies Chinese officials choose to highlight the torch relay – the parts of the torch relay the Chinese government wanted to share with the world. The Chinese government seemingly decided they had the right to rewrite history.

In June 2008, the Beijing Games' Organizing Committee announced that the planned international torch relay for the Paralympic Games had been cancelled. The Committee stated that the relay was being cancelled to enable the Chinese government to "focus on the rescue and relief work" following the Sichuan earthquake.

The International Olympic Committee announced earlier this week it will review its procedures for the Olympic torch relay after a series of protests marred the Beijing flame's worldwide journey.

IOC president Jacques Rogge said Tuesday the tradition of lighting the Olympic flame in Ancient Olympia and starting the torch relay in Greece will continue. But he said the IOC's executive board could limit future torch relays to within the borders of the Olympic host nation.

Angry and sometimes violent protests of China's human rights record took place as the flame traveled through San Francisco, London and Paris.

In his opening speech at the three-day IOC session on the eve of the Beijing Games, Rogge said that his organization respect protests and freedom of expression, but violence is against the Olympic spirit.

“We will have to reflect with calmness and tranquility on the future of the Olympic torch relay," Rogge said in his opening speech at the three-day IOC session on the eve of the Beijing Games.

"We respect protests and freedom of expression, but violence is against the Olympic spirit," Rogge said. "We believe in the strong symbolism of the torch relay."

Rogge added the relay was also disrupted in Italy before the 2006 Winter Games in Turin by anti-globalization demonstrators and protesters opposed to road construction projects in the region.

"It is illusory to think the simple elimination of the international relay will make all the problems disappear," Rogge said. "The torch relay attracts the media, and the media attracts the protesters. To make it only a national relay will not solve all the problems."

Senior Chinese IOC member He Zhenliang said he was "very disappointed" by the anti-China protests, adding the Olympic flame was a powerful symbol to unite the world's youth to compete in peace and harmony.

"After these incidents, we are convinced more than ever that we need to cherish and preserve the flame," he said. "We must make all efforts to make sure these incidents are never repeated again. It is a hope. I don't know if it will become a reality."

Here is just a taste of what wasn’t shown at the end of Friday’s Beijing Olympic Games Opening Ceremonies.

The torch relay's North American leg occurred in San Francisco, California on April 9. On the day of the relay officials diverted the torch run to an unannounced route. The start was at McCovey Cove (adjacent to the home of the San Francisco Giants) , where Norman Bellingham of the U.S. Olympic Committee gave the torch to the first torchbearer, Chinese 1992 Olympic champion swimmer Lin Li.[78]

The planned closing ceremony at Justin Herman Plaza was cancelled and instead, a ceremony was held at San Francisco International Airport, where the torch was to leave for Buenos Aires.

The route changes allowed the run to avoid large numbers of China supporters and protesters against China. As people found out there would be no closing ceremony at Justin Herman Plaza, there were angry reactions.

One demonstrator was quoted as saying that the route changes were an effort to "thwart any organized protest that had been planned.San Francisco Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin, a critic of Mayor Gavin Newsom, said that it was a "cynical plan to please the Bush State Department and the Chinese government because of the incredible influence of money. Newsom, on the other hand, said he felt it was in "everyone's best interest" and that he believed people had been "afforded the right to protest and support the torch" despite the route changes.

Peter Ueberroth, head of the U.S. Olympic Committee, praised the route changes, saying, "The city of San Francisco, from a global perspective, will be applauded."

People who saw the torch were surprised and cheered as shown from live video of CBS and NBC. The cost to the city for hosting the event was reported to be USD $726,400, nearly half of which has been recovered by private fundraising. Mayor Gavin Newsom said that "exponential" costs associated with mass arrests were avoided by his decision to change the route in consultation with police chief Heather Fong.

The torch relay leg in Paris, held on April 7, began on the first level of the Eiffel Tower and finished at the Stade Charléty. The relay was initially supposed to cover 28 km, but it was shortened at the demand of Chinese officials following widespread protests by pro-Tibet and human rights activists, who repeatedly attempted to disrupt, hinder or halt the procession.

A scheduled ceremony at the town hall was cancelled at the request of the Chinese authorities, and, also at the request of Chinese authorities, the torch finished the relay by bus instead of being carried by athletes

Members from Reporters Without Borders turned out in large numbers to protest. When the torch arrived in Paris, An estimated 3,000 French police protected the Olympic torch relay as it departed from the Eiffel Tower and crisscrossed Paris amid threat of protests.

Widespread pro-Tibet protests, including an attempt by more than one demonstrator to extinguish the flame with water or fire extinguishers, prompted relay authorities to put out the flame five times (according to the police authorities in Paris) and load the torch onto a bus,[56] at the demand of Chinese officials. This was later denied by the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, despite video footage broadcast by French television network France 2 which showed Chinese flame attendants extinguishing the torch. Backup flames are with the relay at all times to relight the torch

The torch relay leg held in London on April 6 began at Wembley Stadium, passed through the City of London, and eventually ended at O2 Arena in the eastern part of the city.

The 48 km (31 mi) leg took a total of seven and a half hours to complete, and attracted protests by pro-Tibetan independence and pro-Human Rights supporters, prompting changes to the planned route and an unscheduled move onto a bus which then briefly halted by protestors.

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith has officially complained to Beijing Organizing Committee about the conduct of the tracksuit-clad Chinese security guards. The Chinese officials, seen manhandling protesters, were described by both the Mayor of London Ken Livingstone and chairman of the London Olympic Committee Lord Coe as "thugs".

A Metropolitan police briefing paper revealed that security for the torch relay cost $1.5 million and the participation of the Chinese security team had been agreed in advance, despite the Mayor stating, "We did not know beforehand these thugs were from the security services. Had I known so, we would have said no."

The torch relay also included a stop Seoul, which hosted the 1988 Summer Olympics, on April 27. Intended torchbearers Choi Seung-kook and Park Won-sun boycotted the event to protest against the Chinese government's crackdown in Tibet.

More than 8,000 riot police were deployed to guard the 15-mile route, which began at Olympic Park, which was built when Seoul hosted the 1988 Games. On the day of the torch relay in Seoul, Chinese students clashed with protesters, throwing rocks, bottles, and punches.

A North Korean defector whose brother defected to China but was captured and executed by the DPRK, attempted to set himself on fire in protest of China's treatment of North Korean refugees. He poured gasoline on himself but police quickly surrounded him and carried him away.

Two other demonstrators tried to storm the torch but failed. Fighting broke out near the beginning of the relay between a group of 500 Chinese supporters and approximately 50 protesters who carried a banner that read: "Free North Korean refugees in China." The students threw stones and water bottles as approximately 2,500 police tried to keep the groups separated. Police said they arrested five people, including a Chinese student who was arrested for allegedly throwing rocks.

Thousands of Chinese followed the torch on its 4.5 hour journey, some chanting, "Go China, go Olympics!" By the end of the relay, Chinese students became violent, and it was reported in Korean media that they were "lynching" everyone who was disagreeing with them. One police man was also rushed to hospital after being attacked by Chinese students.

And two before all this began, on April 26, 2006 – one of the IOC’s biggest sponsors, sang the praise as to how much they believed in the Olympic torch relay. This from the release Samsung sent out what will forever remain a day in infamy for the electronic supplier.

The Beijing Organizing Committee for the Games of the XXIX Olympiad (BOCOG) announced today that Samsung Electronics has signed on as the Presenting Partner of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Torch Relay at the China Millennium Monument. BOCOG also unveiled torch designs, planed Route for the Torch Relays leading up to the grand opening ceremony of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games on August 8, 2008.

Today, Samsung Electronics and BOCOG signed the Beijing 2008 Olympic Torch Relay sponsorship contract.

"Samsung is thrilled to be the Presenting Partner of the Beijing Olympic Torch Relay," said Mr. Gyehyun Kwon, Vice President of Samsung Electronics in charge of worldwide sports marketing. "We are extremely proud of the diverse group that will have the honor of carrying the Olympic flame at this historic event. The torchbearers reflect what is best in all of us and also Samsung's corporate values of harmony and shared humanity. In particular, the Torch Relay in China will enhance the understanding and friendship between Samsung and the Chinese people."

As the Presenting Partner of Torch Relay, Samsung has the rights to select 1,500 torchbearers, use torch relay logos, and hold Torch-related marketing events. Samsung Electronics has been involved in the international torch relay in the Athens 2004 Olympic Games and the Torino 2006 Olympic Winter Games.

Samsung Electronics will host a series of public events in cities along the torch relay route with a variety of programs and promotional events surrounding its wireless telecommunication products.

Concurrently, Samsung Electronics plans to stage a formal launching of the Olympic marketing campaigns throughout China. In June, Samsung Electronics will kick off the Beijing Olympic Campaign and hold a public concert.

The Samsung Electronics brand has made its presence known in all corners of the world through its sponsorship of the Olympic torch relays. Torch relay sponsorship, together with the Wireless Olympics Works (WOW) and the Samsung OR@S are viewed as the best marketing approaches that fully capture the Olympics theme.

Samsung Electronics has increased its brand value through sponsoring Olympic torch relays. Samsung has selected torchbearers for relays through 34 cities in 27 countries for the Athens 2004 Olympic Games. During the Torino 2006 Olympic Winter Games, Olympic torches were carried by torchbearers selected by Samsung through 567 cities in Italy, where the brand of Samsung has been ever remembered by each street and alleys in Italy.

Samsung wasn’t the only major Olympic sponsor burned by the Olympic torch relay. Froi the six time in the last twelve years Coca-Cola played a major role in sponsoring the Olympic torch relay.

"The Olympic Torch Relay is truly a magnificent event, and Coca-Cola is proud to be involved again for the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games," said David G. Brooks, General Manager, 2008 Olympic Project Group, Coca-Cola (China) Beverages Ltd on April 26m 2007 a full year before the actual relay began "The Torch Relay builds awareness and anticipation for the upcoming Olympic Games, and it has become a symbol of optimism that connects people across different cultures."

This event marks the sixth time Coca-Cola has served as a presenting partner of the Olympic Torch Relay. Coca-Cola also presented the Atlanta 1996, Nagano 1998, Salt Lake 2002, Athens 2004 and Torino 2006 Olympic Torch Relays.

Coca-Cola’s first official involvement with the Olympic Torch Relay occurred with the introduction of the International Olympic Torchbearers Program, sponsored by Coca-Cola, for the Barcelona 1992 Olympic Games. The program - developed in cooperation with the International Olympic Committee, the Barcelona Olympic Organizing Committee and various National Olympic Committees - was a turning point in modern-day Torch Relay tradition: it marked the first time that people from other countries were invited to participate in the Torch Relay in the host country of the Olympic Games. The International Olympic Torchbearers Program has been repeated several times since 1992, including the Lillehammer 1994 Olympic Winter Games.

Coca-Cola has been continuously associated with the Olympic Games since 1928 - longer than any other corporate sponsor. In August 2005, The Coca-Cola Company and the International Olympic Committee announced the renewal of their historic partnership for an unprecedented 12 years, from 2009 through 2020.

“This is a global sponsor’s worst nightmare,” said Nicholas Didow, professor of marketing at the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School. “At this point, it is as if you are sponsoring political and social conflict, rather than celebrating peace and unification.”

It is unclear whether Samsung’s text-message promotion had been wounded by anti-China demonstrations that have also disrupted the torch’s tour through Athens, London and Paris. Executives with the Seoul-based company didn’t return calls seeking comment.

Neither did representatives of Atlanta-based Coca-Cola Co., another corporate sponsor of the Olympic torch relay.

A spokeswoman for the third sponsor, Lenovo Group of China, issued a statement via e-mail: “Lenovo is proud to play a role in spreading the important values the Olympic Games embody – unity, peace, and sponsorship.”

The spokeswoman added, “Understandably, we are disappointed by attempts to disrupt the relay.”

According to a Los Angeles Times report The International Campaign for Tibet and 140 other advocacy groups recently sent a letter to Coca-Cola, asking the company to use its influence to keep the torch from passing through Tibet. Campaign spokesman Ben Carrdus said the group feared there would be more bloodshed.

Carrdus said the torch relay’s three corporate sponsors and the dozens of companies that sponsor the Games are naive to believe that they can separate sports from politics.

“The Olympics don’t exist in a vacuum. You can’t just cherry pick the profitable parts.”

Sponsors are smart to emphasize that they’re supporting athletes and the competitive spirit, and to steer clear of the human rights controversy, said David Carter, a sports marketing consultant and executive director of the USC Sports Business Institute.

“They need to position themselves as part of the solution,” he said.

A spokeswoman for General Electric Co., a sponsor of the Summer Games, said that although the concerns raised by protesters are valid, “the Olympics should not be used as a platform for political issues.”

Companies could change their tunes if protesters call for a boycott of sponsors’ products, said Sergio Zyman, a former Coca-Cola chief marketing officer and founder of marketing consulting firm Zyman Group.

Friday as the Beijing Olympic Ceremonies ended – the Chinese attempted to rewrite history. Shame on the everyone who attempted to retell the truth. A simple oversight to include selected images of the torch relay or a deliberate attempt to change history. Half truths, promises made and never kept – those have to be included in whatever lasting legacy the Games of the 29th Olympiad leave behind.

And if as the Chinese have suggested they want the Beijing Games to remain free of politics they’d be well advised to start telling the whole truth and nothing but the truth when it comes to the Games of the 29th Olympiad.

For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom. Sources cited and used in this Insider Report: The London Telegraph, The London Telegraph and Wikipedia

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