Will the 2008 Olympics survive the PR “Disaster”?

April 7, 2008

The major news channels have declared the 2008 Beijing Olympics a PR “Disaster.”  Every nation where the torch has made an appearance on its way to its lighting ceremony this August, it has met with both violent and non-violent protesters.  As I write this, there are police monitoring three individuals scaling the Golden Gate Bridge in California apparently with the intent to hang a banner of protest.


In videos of coverage of the parade, the jeers are far outweighing the cheers, the news-media is compiling massive amounts of footage of police and protesters, and Advertisers and Sponsors are nervous.  In light of the adage, that no PR is “bad” PR, can the Olympics survive the next days and months?


A PR “expert” (nope, it wasn’t me) went on one of the major cable news network today to try to suggest what steps the Olympics should take to turn this fiasco around.  He purported that the Olympics needed to separate the brand of the Olympics away from the brand of China.  It is an interesting theory and one that seems like a daunting task.  Aren’t the Olympics designed in part to be a showcase of the hosting country?  Isn’t that part of the brand appeal?  If so, can the Olympic brand survive the separation? How can it be done?


I would contend that the Olympics themselves have survived political strife in the past, and it still seems to come out “OK” when the dust settles.  The current news stories seem “bigger” and “louder” with the proliferation of the communications technology and social media tools.  Are the issues of Tibet and China any different or a greater atrocity than the events of the past?


At the Olympic Games, politics and sports are running mates, once wrote Richard Benedetto in USA Today. He mentioned a few:


Germany was not invited to compete in the 1920 Antwerp Games as punishment for its role in World War I. Defeated World War II powers Japan and Germany were banned from the 1948 Olympics in London.


In 1936, at the Berlin Olympics, Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler proved to be a harbinger of World War II.


Japan was denied its chance to host the 1940 Games after it invaded China.


The Soviet Union did not compete in the 1948 London Games because it still hadn’t joined the IOC, but the Soviet-bloc countries started to defect to the West, a pattern that continued throughout the Cold War.


By 1952, with the Soviets becoming full-fledged members of the Olympics, intense competition between the US and the Soviet Union became a metaphor for the Cold War.


By the 1980s, Cold War competition had become so passionate that the United States and the Soviet Union engaged in tit-for-tat boycotts of the Games. US President Jimmy Carter, angered by the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, led an international boycott of the Moscow Olympics in 1980.


Not to be upstaged, Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev kept his athletes from competing in the US-hosted Los Angeles Games in 1984, saying it was not a retaliatory gesture but a measure taken for the “security” of the Soviet athletes.


So it appears that the Olympic tradition has seen its share of political strife and turmoil.  It is after all one of the largest audiences of viewers worldwide, and with the advances in technology, each Olympic Games occurs in a time with more communications tools and technologies than its predecessor. So how can it raise itself above the buzz of the current media frenzy?  Or can it?  I’ll present some ideas tomorrow, but I’d love to hear some of yours…



One comment

  1. I’ll premise the following by saying there are few things in organized sports I enjoy more than the Olympics, especially the Winter Games. I’d have traded anything I ever did in sports to be a bobsledder. Unfortunately, not many bobsled training facilities on the north side of Chicago when I was growing up. I digress.

    That said . . .

    The true hypocrisy of the Olympics is the International Olympic Committee. How truly properly judicial they are when an athlete runs afoul of the rules. Be it drugs or . . . well, drugs. It’s always drugs, isn’t it? The members act swiftly and decisively in terminating an athlete’s tenure at an Olympiad — and generally, rightly so — saying, “no one will tarnish our games.”

    Sure. Leave the real tarnish to the pros.

    Years earlier when bidding for a future Games begins, it’s the IOC that will happily be wined, dined and offered “assistance” in deciding who gets the glorious Games. The name Juan Antonio Samaranch comes to mind. Certainly, there have been others.

    Corruption, bribes . . . it’s right out of a television miniseries, complete with Samaranch and guys on the committee before him and after him leaning back on the proverbial couch and saying i.e. “now tell me . . . . . . why should we give the Games to your city?”

    Does anyone actually believe the whole voting BS — the multiple ballots that gradually eliminate cities until a “winner” is chosen — is legit? The names Nagano, Salt Lake City and Beijing come to mind.

    To me, the IOC is little more than fertile ground for the culture of corruption they carefully nurtured over many, many years.

    That so many are now, suddenly, outraged that Beijing is an Olympic host is laughable at best and pathetic at its core. The IOC views itself as some sort of world problem-solver.

    The bid went to Beijing for — what? Were the Olympic Games suddenly going to solve any and all human rights problems in China? Were they going to be the catalyst for political and cultural reform in China bringing them more in line with how the rest of the world believes they should act? And now, Richard III . . . er . . . Hillary Clinton is calling for at least a partial boycott of the Games?

    What a mess. But fear not, the IOC will figure out something to make everything look good, smell nice and be . . . Right. For two weeks.

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