Most of the US media coverage from Beijing has centered on the historic achievement of US swimmer Michael Phelps and the attempt by the men’s USA basketball team to reclaim glory. Every time viewers were fixed on Phelps’ quest for 8 gold medals, we were reminded that the swim meets were sponsored by Speedo, the swimsuits/swimgear company.
According to a recent report co-authored by Commercial Alert and Multinational Monitor, Speedo is only one of a record 63 companies that are sponsors or partners in this year’s Olympics. In the 59-page report entitled “The Commercial Games,” the authors not only point out the absurd commercialization of what media pundits like to call “The People’s Games” they also point out that many of the corporate sponsors promote products that are antithetical to health and fitness.
“The Olympic rush to sell sponsorships to the highest bidders has led to partnerships with companies whose products or methods of doing business betray Olympic ideals: junk food hawkers, beer and liquor peddlers, and equipment makers reliant on sweatshop contractors, among others,” says Jennifer Wedekind, co-author of the report and Multinational Monitor associate editor.
Unfortunately, most sportswriters will not address these fundamental issues. However, there has been good analysis done by sportswriter Dave Zirin in his regular “Edge of Sports” columns. In a recent posting, Zirin commented that the real winners in these Olympic Games will be US based multinational corporations which are hoping to tap into the Chinese market. “This is the Olympics the West wanted: games where the grandest prize is not a gold medal but a glittering entree to China’s seemingly endless army of potential consumers.”
Towards the end of “The Commercial Games” report, the authors do make some important recommendations. The report recommends that the “International Olympic Committee (IOC), the National Olympic Committees, and international and national sports governing bodies scale back the overall number of sponsorships.” The report also urges the IOC and other Olympic bodies “to refuse sponsorships from alcohol or junk food companies, or companies tied to gross human rights violations.” It also recommends that they should “insist that official, sponsoring apparel and equipment makers disclose where their products are manufactured, and ensure that their products are manufactured in a fashion that respects core labor standards.” If these recommendations were implemented then the Olympics might truly be a healthy exchange of culture and competition.