As the International Olympic Committee prepares to decide Friday which nation will host the summer games of 2008, mainland China’s government is churning through the final days of a huge and costly campaign to win the vote. Beijing’s drive has been heavily energized and funded by an olympian lineup of companies eager to expand their business here, including U.S. firms General Motors and Xerox.
Companies such as Heineken (of the Netherlands), Fuji Photo (Japan), Telstra (Australia) and Acer (Taiwan) are among 20 that have paid for about two-thirds of Beijing’s US$20 million bid for the games. Other firms here have joined Beijing’s team more symbolically, if only by having the official Chinese Olympic logo printed on their executives’ business cards.
For years, China has charged after these games with the considerable singlemindedness that an authoritarian state can muster. The government is eager to efface its failure to win the 1992 games, which were held in Barcelona, Spain. That bid was destroyed three years earlier, when the government used tanks and troops to crush a peaceful pro-democracy rally on Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, killing hundreds of demonstrators.
Opponents of China’s new candidacy say the IOC should award the games to another leading candidate — say, Paris or Toronto — because China continues to violate human rights and suppress dissent. Near the committee’s meeting site in Moscow Friday, police arrested ethnic Tibetans and others who who tried to unfurl a banner in protest of any Chinese-hosted Olympic Games.
Supporters of Beijing’s bid say a China that gets the games will have a powerful incentive to hew closer to international standards of human rights, in order to ensure that the games ultimately succeed. The Games “will be a catalyst to further change,” said Tu Mingde, an official on Beijing’s bid committee, as he arrived in Moscow. “I can’t say how much, but it will really help.”
Some of the companies allied with China’s bid hope to win the official sponsorships to be awarded by the local organizing committee. “This could potentially be the most explosive ever for sports sponsorship and entertainment,” said Dean Bonham, a Denver-based analyst of sponsorships and marketing for sports and entertainment companies.
The value of Olympic sponsorships has soared since 1983, when the games began accepting corporate support.
Even a company not interested in sponsorships might back the games to seek a bit of credit with the government, or simply in hopes that business will boom in China if it gets the games.
Emory Williams, a board member of the American Chamber of Commerce in China, voiced a hope of many foreign business executives here — that a Beijing Olympics will help open this country and its market.”We all see it as part of the continuous process of China engaging the world,” he said.