Friday, August 01, 2008

Countdown to Beijing – Politics, Business and the Beijing Games

The Beijing Games begin Friday and the world will be watching. The next three weeks promise to offer an orgy of Beijing Olympic related coverage. Will the Chinese be ready? Easiest question to answer, there is no budget for the Beijing Games. Say what you want about costs for the 2012 London Games approaching $20 billion or the more than $12 billion spent on the 2004 Athens Games.

You’ll be able to combine the outrageous totals for those two games, toss in the estimated $8 billion spent on the 2006 Turin Winter Games and you still won’t be able to top the more than $40 billion The People’s Republic of China have spent on the 2008 Games.

Much of the Games coverage over the last twelve months has focused on the politics of the Games. On February 13 film director Steven Spielberg resigned as artistic adviser to the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, in protest at China's failure to distance itself from genocide and human rights abuses in Darfur.

The Oscar-winning director, who had been working since last year to help choreograph the Games' opening ceremony scheduled for next Friday, had previously warned Beijing that he would withdraw unless it did more to distance itself from the violence.

In a statement released when Spielberg delivered a message to Beijing organizers, the director said: "I find that my conscience will not allow me to continue business as usual. At this point, my time and energy must be spent not on Olympic ceremonies but on doing all I can to help bring an end to the unspeakable crimes against humanity that continue to be committed in Darfur."

The Olympic Torch relay was plagued by protests in nearly every country the torch visited before it touched down in China. The Dalai Lama had a dramatic impact on the Games. The New York Times summed up the terrible toll Tibetans have experienced at the hands of the Chinese

The Chinese took Tibet by force in 1951, and the region has been a source of tension ever since. Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama — who, much to Beijing’s fury, met President Bush at the White House last October — has urged greater religious and cultural freedom for Tibet. But talks with Beijing have gone nowhere.

Tuesday, Students for a Free Tibet paid $51,000 to purchase a full page ad in The New York Times. The ad reads in part, “At every Olympics, there is one athlete who ends up inspiring the world with their courage and character. We’re hoping that athlete is reading this.” The ad appeared in the Times today, July 29th, on page A9.

The New York Times ad was sponsored by Students for a Free Tibet, whose recent dramatic protests at Mt. Everest base camp, the Great Wall of China, and the Golden Gate Bridge have grabbed worldwide headlines. Listed at the bottom of the ad is the web address, a website sponsored by Students for a Free Tibet and the International Tibet Support Network, a global coalition of over 150 Tibet support organizations.

Tibet groups in North America, Europe, India, and Australia have been reaching out to Olympic hopefuls and athletes from many participating nations, providing information and materials to encourage them to show support for Tibet while at the Games in August.

“Olympic athletes have the platform and the power to inspire the world,” said Tenzin Dorjee, Deputy Director of Students for a Free Tibet. “At the Beijing Games, we believe athletes have the opportunity to inspire not only with their athletic performances, but also by standing up for what is right by supporting human rights and freedom for Tibet.”

The website lists ideas and resources for showing support for Tibet in Beijing this summer. The website suggests raising a Tibetan Flag, wearing ‘Team Tibet’ clothing, and other creative, nonviolent statements of support.

“The Chinese government is using the Olympics as a pretext for an ongoing campaign of brutal repression targeting Tibetans,” said Han Shan, Olympics Campaign Coordinator for Students for a Free Tibet. “We are searching for an athlete to show the Chinese government the true Olympic principles of friendship, solidarity and fair play by standing up for Tibet at the Beijing Olympics.”

“At a time when Chinese authorities are ruthlessly silencing Tibetan voices, it means more than ever when free people speak up for Tibet,” said Yangchen Lhamo, a San Francisco Bay Area-based spokesperson for Students for a Free Tibet. “We believe many athletes compete in the Olympics not just for themselves and their countries, but because they believe in the values of liberty, justice, and human dignity that the Olympics represent. These are the ideals that Tibetans are struggling and dying for at this moment.”

When the Games start next Friday, the Games sharing the stage taking center stage together won’t be the first time politics and the Olympics have come together, as reported by the USA Today:

Berlin, 1936: German medal winners and many foreigners follow Adolf Hitler's lead and raise their right arms in the Nazi salute. Hitler's Aryan supremacist doctrine takes a public relations hit, however, when African-American sprinter Jesse Owens wins four gold medals.
Melbourne, 1956: Egypt, Iraq and Lebanon boycott to protest the attack on Egypt by Britain, France and Israel during the Suez Crisis. The Netherlands, Spain and Switzerland boycott to protest the Soviet Union's invasion of Hungary.
Mexico City, 1968: U.S. sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos raise black-gloved fists in the air as a salute to black power during the medal ceremony for the 200 meters. They are suspended by the IOC and sent home by the USOC.
Munich, 1972: A pro-Palestinian group kills 11 members of the Israeli team after an assault in the Olympic Village. Competition is suspended for 34 hours and IOC President Avery Brundage is widely criticized for barely mentioning the Israeli athletes during a memorial service.
Montreal, 1976: African nations boycott to protest apartheid in South Africa. Taiwan withdraws after Canada's government says it cannot use the name Republic of China.
Moscow, 1980: The USA leads a boycott with 64 other countries to protest the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
Los Angeles, 1984: The Soviets retaliate with their own boycott with 13 other countries, citing security concerns.
Lillehammer, 1994: IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch makes an emotional call for an Olympic truce in the war-torn Balkans, 10 years after Sarajevo hosted the Winter Games. Norwegian speedskater Johann Olav Koss, winner of three gold medals, donates $30,000 in bonuses to aid for Sarajevo.

The International Olympic Committee awarded the Games to Beijing on Friday, July 13, 2001. Beijing received 56 votes three more than the required majority and 34 votes ahead of second-placed Toronto.

The reaction seven years ago – interesting to say the least.

Following the decision, then Chinese President Jiang Zemin made an unannounced appearance and gave the exuberant crowd his "warmest congratulations."

"Comrades! We express our deep thanks to all our friends around the world and to the IOC for helping to make Beijing successful in its Olympic bid," Jiang shouted to the crowd.

"I hope the whole nation works hard along with residents of the capital city to stage successful 2008 Olympic Games. I also welcome our friends around the world to visit Beijing in 2008."

''Like all countries, China has certain areas where something is left to be desired,'' Yuan Weimin, the country's minister of sport, said at the time. As China further opens to the world in preparation for the Olympics and for its expected entry into the World Trade Organization, Mr. Yuan said, economic progress ''will bring along advances in culture, health, education, sport and, not least of all, corresponding progress in human rights causes.''

Juan Antonio Samaranch, in his last act as president of the I.O.C., said when the Games where awarded to Beijing the awarding of the 2008 Games could open ''a new era for China.'' Dr. Henry A. Kissinger, an auxiliary member of the I.O.C., said, ''I think this is a very important step in the evolution of China's relation with the world.

''I think it will have a major impact in China, and on the whole, a positive impact, in the sense of giving them a high incentive for moderate conduct both internationally and domestically in the years ahead,'' said Dr. Kissinger, who was not eligible to participate in the voting.

"For the industrial and commercial sector, it's like buying an insurance policy that (China) will not invade Taiwan for seven years," the Chinese mass circulation United Daily News reported.

In New Delhi, the Dalai Lama's Tibetan government-in-exile slammed the choice, saying it would encourage repression in China.

As Tibet's exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama runs a government-in-exile from the Indian Himalayan foothills town of Dharamsala. He fled Tibet nine years after Chinese troops marched into their homeland in 1950.

"We deeply regret that Beijing is awarded the 2008 Olympic Games," spokesman for the India-based Central Tibetan Administration Kalon T.C. Tethong said in a statement.

"This will put the stamp of international approval on Beijing's human rights abuses and will encourage China to escalate its repression," he said.

According to a CNN report published on July 14, 2001 the United States urged China to show a "modern" face when it hosts the Olympic Games in 2008 after it won its bid despite worldwide concern over its human rights record.

"The president believes that the Olympics are a sporting event, not a political event. But having said that, this now is an opportunity for China to showcase itself as a modern nation," then White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said at the time.

Reaction from France (Paris also bid for the 2008 Games) made it clear the French weren’t pleased with the decision.

Francois Loncle, then the head of parliament's foreign affairs committee, saw parallels with the decision to hold the 1936 Olympics in Nazi Germany.

"The decision by the IOC goes towards justifying a repressive political system that each day flouts freedom and violates human rights," said Loncle, a member of French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin's Socialist party.

"Following the example of Nazi Germany in 1936 and the Soviet Union in 1980, Communist China will use (the games) as a powerful propaganda instrument destined to consolidate its hold on power," Loncle said in a statement.

In Germany, then German Interior Minister Otto Schily told CNN the decision should help promote democracy in China. "I am convinced that the Olympic Games will have a positive effect on China's democratic development," he said in a statement.

''There is a feeling that the Olympic Games promote world peace and humanitarian causes and can impact social change immediately,'' Kevin Wamsley, a history professor and director of the International Center for Olympic Studies at the University of Western Ontario told The New York Times. ''History shows the Games have not done these kinds of things. I don't think we saw any less racism in the U.S. because the Olympics were in Atlanta.''

''We're disappointed the I.O.C. didn't get guarantees from the Chinese government on human rights issues before giving the Games away,'' said Sidney Jones, Asia director for the Human Rights Watch, based in New York in a New York Times report at the time. ''Now the burden is going to be on corporate sponsors and governments fielding teams to ensure that human rights abuses don't take place in direct association with the Games. I don't think the Games will change things on their own.''

The awarding of the 2008 Olympic Games never had anything to do about improving human rights or making China a more open society. There is only one way for that to take place and unfortunately as history has shown moving a society from socialism to democracy doesn’t happen with “promises of good intentions”.

The 2008 Olympic Games are all about (at least from the IOC’s perspective) offering Olympic sponsors a gateway into China, a country with a quarter of the world’s population that had closed its doors to corporations for decades. Yes, the 2008 Olympic Games are all about the mighty dollar (the American one no less).

The Masters of the Rings made their momentous decision six years ago awarding the Games to Beijing – it represented in July 2001 what it does today, what it will in two years, the single greatest marketing opportunity the IOC will ever offer its major sponsors. 1.3 billion consumers have corporations salivating at the chance.

According to a 2006 Wall Street Journal report, thirty-six companies have reached marketing agreements with the Beijing Organizing Committee, or BOCOG. BOCOG isn’t quite done yet, the organizers are still actively soliciting suppliers. It’s expected according to the most current estimates the Beijing Organizing Committee will generate close to $1.5 billion in sponsorship and marketing dollars by the time the Games begin. That’s three times what the Athens Games generated and twice the total the 2000 Sydney Games ended up raising.
For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom. Sources cited and used in this Insider Report: USA Today, CNN and The New York Times

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