Olympics Sponsors Counseled to "Keep Quiet" on Darfur

Refugee children from Darfur (Photo courtesy of International Rescue Committee)Corporate sponsors of this summer's Beijing Olympics Games are increasingly nervous. Steven Spielberg recently "withdrew as an artistic adviser for the Beijing Games' opening and closing ceremonies, citing China's ties to the Sudan government." Even athletes are getting in the act, with more than 50 joining "Team Darfur, an organization of past and present Olympians who have pledged to use the Games to highlight what they see as genocide in Darfur." An unnamed "major public relations firm was busy yesterday providing advice to Olympic sponsors and advertisers," reports the Wall Street Journal. "While the firm was telling marketers to 'keep quiet' on the issue if at all possible, it was also advising them to develop a position on Darfur. One executive at the firm says he is likely to tell marketers to also pay attention to internal dynamics at their companies, including employee opinions." Major Olympics sponsors include Coca-Cola, McDonald's, General Motors and Eastman Kodak.


Seattle television station KING 5 has [http://www.king5.com/sports/stories/NW_021408OLY_beijing_charm_LJ.c08e301e.html a first-hand account] of how Chinese officials are wooing foreign journalists:

I spent five days in Beijing with photographer Ken Jones as guests of the Olympic Organizing Committee. It was dawn to dusk of show-and-tell, all designed to show us and have them tell us "everything's OK." They have it handled, and please come see the "New China."

And the British newspaper Telegraph notes [http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2008/02/14/wchina214.xml a change in Chinese officials' response] to criticisms of the country's human rights record:

A foreign ministry spokesman said that while the government regretted Steven Spielberg’s decision to withdraw his support for the Games, it thought it "understandable" if critics did not agree with China’s policy in Sudan, and hoped for "dialogue" with them. ...

The new stance, which contrasts with previous statements saying the Chinese people would "never forgive" attempts to politicise the Games, may be a sign of the government’s fear that Spielberg’s boycott could trigger a bandwagon effect. ...

It may also be a sign of the influence of the international public relations consultants hired by the Games’ organisers.