We have talked about the Olympics in Beijing 2008 in an earlier blog. So here we are again. It teaches us some fascinating lessons about the shift in politics globally.
After massive protests which partly stopped the journey of the Olympic torch in Paris yesterday, we are awaiting its arrival in San Francisco today. Pictures on TV don’t promise an exactly smooth further ride. With Richard Gere and Desmond Tutu among the protesters this will be another high profile spotlight on the fact that China – despite being an accepted player in the global economic community – by many is still considered a pariah in terms of democracy and human rights.
It is interesting to watch into which arena these inherently political issues have waned. Fair enough, Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel as heads of two Western governments have cancelled their participation in the opening ceremony. A symbolic gesture of distancing from what some commentators see as re-run of the 1936 Olympics. Back then, another regime instrumentalized the Olympics for gaining international legitimacy.
But so far, most democratic leaders in the West have shied away from raising louder voices, let alone action. Also precious little so far to hear about Chinese ‘flame attendants’, ripping off Tibetan headbands from torchbearers or wrestling down protestors. These ‘men in blue’, according the BBC, ‘in fact, the cream of China’s armed police’, so far happily did their work on the streets of Athens, London or Paris.
So, the loudest and clearest voices come from the streets all around the globe. They are led by activists and citizens who voice their anger and concern. Their tactics are well known: linking their cause to high-profile events provides visibility to an otherwise neglected issue. Greenpeace, as we discuss in Case 10 in the book, has used this tactic successfully at the Sydney 2000 Olympics in introducing the Greenfreeze technology.
It will be exciting to watch how these dynamics will further unfold. It is highly likely that civil society protests will continue. From a business ethics perspective, the jury is out whether all the companies sponsoring the Olympics are in fact in for a major PR disaster. Executives at Coca Cola, Volkswagen or Adidas have a tricky nettle to grasp.
Not only is the value and integrity of their global brand at stake. Moreover, they all have elaborate policies on CSR, ethics or sustainability. Just as we speak, they might be well advised to revisit their take on the Beijing Olympics. We hope they have enough managers literate in business ethics to help them with this task.