Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Olympic morality isn't cost effective

Rick Westhead is putting all the pieces of the puzzle together and shouts: “So much for the IOC's motto, Celebrate Humanity” and I can see why. YOU can help make the right changes happen. Make no mistake, the minute improvements that we might be witnessing right now are very short-term...what about apres the Olympics?

Toronto Star:... It wasn't supposed to be like this. The IOC, after all, suggested years ago that awarding the Olympics to China would very well be a catalyst for change. ...

You don't have to be an actuarial tables expert to understand why Canada's largest insurance company, Manulife Financial Corp., is excited to be an Olympic sponsor.

The next edition of the Summer Games will be held in China, a land of 1.3 billion people that makes Canada and its 32 million look paltry by comparison, and it's a market that Manulife covets like no other.

As Manulife put it in a recent press release, the Beijing Olympic Games is, "the single greatest marketing opportunity this decade for companies wishing to establish leadership positions in Asia, and in particular the Greater China region."

Yet it's a disgrace that less than two years before the Games' opening ceremonies, the Beijing Olympics is shaping up to be a shameful missed opportunity for the likes of Toronto's own insurance giant.

Never before have western companies had the chance to foster meaningful human rights improvements in China. With billions of dollars worth of potential new business at stake, few major Olympic sponsors - others include adidas, Visa, McDonald's and Coca-Cola - seem interested in staring down the Chinese government and its Olympic organizing committee, insisting the country improve its human rights record if it wants to keep receiving sponsorship payouts.

Most sponsors, Manulife included, seem more interested in announcing new branch openings than they are in addressing the imbroglio that is China's human rights situation.

Earlier this month, for instance, a U.S. Congressional commission said it was deeply concerned about a "period of declining human rights for China's citizens." That was at about the same time as Amnesty International alleged the Chinese government is using the Games as an excuse to round up vagrants and send them to the countryside in advance of the Olympics.

In March, the BBC reported China's foreign ministry admitted organs from some prisoners are sold to foreigners who need transplants, although only in "very few cases." And that came on the heels of news that China last year executed at least 1,770 people, more than any other country in the world, although aid groups suspect the true number is higher.

It wasn't supposed to be like this. The IOC, after all, suggested years ago that awarding the Olympics to China would very well be a catalyst for change.

As Francois Carrard, the onetime IOC director general put it, the Olympic committee in awarding the Games to China is betting on, "the fact that in the ... coming years up to the 2008 Olympic Games, the interaction, the openness, the progress and the development in many areas will be such that the situation could be improved. We are making the bet that seven years from now we sincerely and dearly hope we will see many changes."

Yet Manulife and several other big-ticket Olympic sponsors clearly aren't interested in addressing that sort of change.

In response to questions about what human-rights role the insurer might play in China, Manulife's assistant vice-president Kim Griffiths said:

"We would like to ask that you contact the IOC to answer all questions relating to this issue."

It's not hard to read between the lines of Griffiths' comment.

"I honestly think every big company in the world desperately wants a piece of the economic pie there and is taking a `what we don't see can't really be hurting' anyone's type of approach,"
said Bob Stellick, a Toronto-area marketer.

So much for the IOC's motto, Celebrate Humanity.

OLYMPIC WATCH: Human Rights in China and Beijing 2008

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