This is the well-meaning slogan of the 2022 Winter Olympics in keeping with the Olympic spirit. Well, is that really the case?
The 2022 Winter Olympics hosted by China are being discussed on the cost, environmental impact, censorship, espionage, Covid-19, sports-washing and human rights issues rather than the unifyingness of sports.
– The Chinese government spends $3.9 billion on the Games. But the real cost might be more than $38.5 billion, 10 times the reported amount.
– The USA, UK, Canada, India, Australia, Lithuania, Kosovo, Belgium, Denmark and Estonia are boycotting the Olympics at the diplomatic level due to China’s human rights record. (China has been accused of systemic abuses against the Muslim Uyghur minority in the Xinjiang region.)
– Criticism is rising that the Olympics are being used by the Chinese government for sports-washing purposes to distract sporting events from human rights abuses or other problems.
– The Beijing Organizing Committee warned that “any act or speech that violates the Olympic spirit, especially Chinese laws and regulations, is subject to certain penalties.” All circles agree that this is outright censorship!
– Those attending the Games, including athletes, spectators and media, have to use the My2022 app for daily Covid tracking. Users are warned about security weaknesses and data privacy in the application. It is said that some countries are telling athletes to leave their phones at home and prefer disposable phones in China.
– China has been criticized for environmental impact. Since there is very little precipitation in the region, approximately 1.2 million cubic meters of artificial snow will be used. Although China says that these Olympics are ‘green‘ and use new technologies, it has not been able to convince everyone in this regard.
Olympic eco-system and brands!
Let’s come to another critical issue: Big global brands are actually sponsoring these Olympics, which their governments boycotted due to human rights concerns.
Isn’t it a contradiction that these brands support the highly controversial Olympics in China, while they are active advocates of political rights, freedom, equality, human rights at the global level, and especially those with high ratings that publish series of reports on environmental, social and governance fields?
When we look at it in the context of sustainability, isn’t there a great risk of credibility and reputation for these brands?
Yes, it is not possible for brands to sacrifice the Chinese market economically. However, in terms of reputation and brand management, how will brands that stand behind the athlete (and even make TV commercials) who take an egalitarian action in America take a stand if, for example, an athlete comes out and criticizes China about human rights at the Olympics? How will this affect the consumers of that brand in geographies outside of China? Multi-layered and challenging decisions for brands!
Finally, the main question: Will the decision to sponsor the 2022 Winter Olympics in China affect the ESG rating of these brands in the near future?
In the name of sustainability, this should have a counterpart on the ideal and moral axis. But will it happen, we’ll see…