China, Olympics and Their Sponsors

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Last year Business Week brought a fine article, Olympic PR Challenge, regarding the rage the summer games sponors face over issues ranging from the Dalai Lama to Darfur. It narrated well how activists concerned about the environment, conditions in Chinese factories, political prisoners, and the fate of Tibet have all said they will use the Games as a forum for their grievances, calling on sponsors to take action as well. Olympic Watch, a group that’s monitoring China’s human-rights record ahead of the Games, noted that if human rights in China don’t improve, sponsoring the games could be a big problem for the image of Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, Kodak, Samsung, Visa and other multinationals. The jest of the message was “You cannot as a large multinational trumpet your corporate responsibility credentials, while at the same time indulging China and refusing to criticize it.” The sponsors of course react by stressing that the Olympics should be about promoting global excellence in sport and not a forum for political issues. Well, what else could they say in their own defense… Bottom line is that while in China you can witness creations of one of the oldest civilizations on Earth, learn about nearly all religious and philosophical mainstreams of the Orient, and visit endless historical sites, monuments and ethnic minorities, it pays even for the sophisticated travelers, that contemplate China tour and plan to journey China in high numbers this coming summer, to keep in mind that despite the showpiece of grand achievements that the Olympics promise to portray the host country as, China still has many challenges and ills to overcome most of which are deeprooted precisely in its social experiment of combining communism and capitalism, a combination which although allowing for economic freedom has nothing to do with freedom of the mind.

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