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Olympic Sponsors Represent Force for Change in China


Corporate sponsors are critical to the success of the Olympic Games. Through direct fees paid to the International Olympic Committee and buying advertising time from broadcasters, who also pay the IOC rights fees, sponsors fund a significant part of the competition. But does this mean sponsors are tacitly endorsing China's policies? VOA Sports Editor Parke Brewer has more from Beijing.

Corporate sponsorship of the Olympics is now a long and accepted part of the games. By supporting the games, corporations hope to cash in on both the publicity and goodwill generated by the world's most watched athletic competition.

Coca-Cola, McDonald's, Samsung and Adidas are among the dozen international corporations that paid nearly $100 million each to be primary sponsors for the Beijing Games. These companies will also pay a large portion of the estimated $6 billion that will be spent on advertising world-wide during the Olympics.

Their goal is no secret. They hope to make money by selling more products in China, and around the world.

Some human rights groups say by doing business with China, these companies give the government a silent endorsement for its repeated human rights violations. But Olympic sponsors contend that by engaging China, they are a force for change.

What do spectators think?

VOA spoke to spectators, like Blair Whitmarsh from Canada, who agree.

"I think it is a good question. The Olympic Games attempts to be non-political, and so I think I sort of see it through a non-political lens," he said. "It is a way that we fund the games and allow us to have the biggest athletic competition and therefore the greatest party on earth. And I tend to think of it as a non-political thing. I know that we tend to politicize it, but I do not think it is giving tacit approval for what is going on here in China."

Does corporate sponsorship foster change?

To coincide with the start of the Olympics, U.S. fast-food restaurant chain McDonald's opened its largest restaurant in the world right in heart of Beijing's main Olympic venue complex. McDonald's has been doing business in China since the 1990s, and by the end of this year plans to have one-thousand restaurants in the country.

Former U.S. track and field star Carl Lewis - a nine-time Olympic gold medalist - was hired by McDonald's to promote its grand opening in Beijing. He defends companies like McDonald's working in China, saying they are a positive influence.

"China has had to make concessions and I am sure they will continue to do that in the future in order to blend into the world," Lewis said. "Obviously, we cannot go backwards on globalization. We are here as it is. And for companies like McDonald's, who you see everywhere in China, every single day out there doing things and hiring people and getting Chinese to understand what different cultures are about. I think it is a good thing."

USOC chief says Olympics offer incentive to meet international standards

U.S. Olympic Committee Chairman Peter Ueberroth was also in attendance at the opening of the world's largest McDonald's. He organized the first privately financed Olympics in Los Angeles in 1984 and told VOA the Olympics and its sponsors offer countries like China incentives to conform to international standards.

"I think when you open up a country, the country behaves differently," he said. "And the Olympics opens up a country like no other event in history.

And Ueberroth believes that is happening in China.

"For the issues that people want to pick on them, almost all of those negative issues are getting better every day, and the Olympics does that," he noted.

Peter Ueberroth added that helping fund the Olympics in China through corporate sponsors is more likely to bring about change than any boycott would have.

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