Beijing Winter Games approaching amid secrecy and uncertainty

Now that the delayed Summer Games are officially over, the global Olympic movement is turning to an event that could be even more difficult: the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing.

These Olympics begin in less than six months, but they remain shrouded in uncertainty for almost everyone involved. It’s unclear whether overseas fans will be allowed to attend the Games, and uncertainty hangs over sponsors who pay billions of dollars to partner with the Olympics, athletes and individual national teams.

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To complicate matters further, COVID-19 and questions about its origin continue to linger, as do ongoing criticism of China’s treatment of Muslims in its Xinjiang region, which governments around the world have called genocide.

Journalists from last week covering the Tokyo Games request IOC President Thomas Bach on Beijing prospects. An IOC press secretary intervened before Bach responded.

The boss of the Olympics is not the only one to avoid the subject. Representatives of the IOC and Team USA did not respond to inquiries or declined to comment directly on the event. The same is true for many companies associated with the Games themselves, including US media partner NBC and a number of sponsors. When asked about having fans, a representative from the Beijing 2022 host committee said the group was “now” in the process of making decisions.

One thing is clear, at least here in the United States: Many members of the Olympic movement expect the Games to be open only to Chinese fans. The move, the thought goes, could be officially announced as a COVID precaution, but it could also prevent the Games from being the most boycotted (or avoided) Olympics in decades.

More than half of Americans think US should consider boycotting Beijing Olympics, recent report says Sportico survey conducted in partnership with Harris Poll. Only 10% said they “strongly disagree” with this idea.

Beijing originally appeared to be a long-term host in 2022, given that it hosted the Summer Games in 2008 and there was no snow, but it took center stage. when the candidatures in Stockholm and Oslo collapsed. Despite opposition from human rights groups, Beijing’s candidacy was put to a final vote in 2015 against only one other option (Almaty, Kazakhstan) and was won by 44 votes to 40.

The 12-month delay in the Tokyo Games, which has had its own controversy, has largely masked much of the uncertainty surrounding Beijing. The Summer Games are bigger, more popular, and more expensive than their winter counterparts, making it a more important three-week period for many members of the Olympic movement. Usually there is an 18 month window between the summer and winter games, but this has decreased significantly due to the delay from Tokyo.

That hasn’t stopped some critics, including those from the US government. Last month, executives from five of the IOC’s main sponsors – Coca-Cola, Intel, Procter & Gamble, AirBNB and Visa – were questioned during a congressional hearing into the genocide in Xinjiang.

“We have no say in the choice of the host city, or on the postponement or relocation of the Olympics,” said Paul Lalli, global head of human rights at Coca-Cola, during the audience. “We don’t make decisions about these hospitality locations. We support and follow athletes wherever they compete.

For Team USA, the Beijing Games mark the start of a new commercial era. All of the 20 or so major USOPC sponsors of the last Olympic Games expire after the Tokyo Games. It’s by design, to create a blank slate for a new joint venture between the USOPC and the Los Angeles 2028 Organizing Committee to sell wholesale partnerships for the next four Olympics.

So far, the group has only signed a few deals that include the Beijing Games. Delta Airlines, Comcast and Salesforce have joined as founding partners – sponsorship deals worth around $ 200 million – as well as smaller deals with Deloitte, Nike and Ralph Lauren.

While it may seem like a step backwards, Beijing has always been the least valuable of the next four Olympics for Team America’s partners. And while there are companies that skip 2022 before buying for 2024-2028, some of those already committed are stuck at higher prices. The joint venture initially set a target of $ 2.5 billion in corporate transactions, and that hasn’t changed, according to a person familiar with the thought.

Companies are unlikely to save money while waiting for Paris, according to Ricardo Fort, founder of Sport by Fort Consulting. He added that Team USA’s sponsors are less directly linked to Beijing, and therefore less exposed to criticism of government actions.

“For this group of companies, the sooner they start promoting the Games, the better it is for their businesses,” said Fort, who led the global sponsorship teams at Visa and Coca-Cola. “So why wait? “

No American company is more directly linked to the Olympics than Comcast, which owns NBCUniversal. Not only is Comcast a founding partner of Team USA through the 2028 Games, but NBC is entering into a new $ 7.75 billion television deal that locks out US rights until 2032. It comes with the sports media industry changing – the 2018 Winter Games were the least watched ever (despite advertising revenue from NBC banking record) and ratings in Tokyo were also disappointing.

It is not known to what extent the Beijing Games controversy and confusion will affect television ownership. NBC is also working with the USOPC / LA2028 joint venture to sell ad inventory under larger sponsorship deals, and has even pledged to support a portion of that $ 2.5 billion corporate goal, according to people familiar with the agreement.

“We are focused on wrapping up our coverage of the Tokyo Olympics,” an NBC Sports spokesperson said late last week.

For all of these companies, and some athletes, the coming months will bring many uncomfortable questions. Activists will increasingly speak out about human rights abuses, and US politicians will use the event to further reprimand China. After the July congressional hearing, Republican Senator Tom Cotton called the sponsor’s testimony “pathetic and shameful.”

It will also be a financial challenge for Olympic stakeholders who are in desperate need of a victory. As IOC member Juan Antonio Samaranch Jr., who heads the committee overseeing Beijing preparations, said at the start of the Tokyo Games: “We need a very successful Games next year in Beijing. We really need this success for everyone’s sake.

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