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Protests 'will cut value' of Olympic ties

By Ed Kemp
Published on: 04/29/08

LONDON - Sponsors of the Olympic Games in Beijing will see the value of their association with the event 'cut in half' because of the activity of 'free Tibet' protestors and Darfur pressure groups, according to marketing researcher Sport+Markt.

Persistent disruption to the Olympic torch relay has been followed by an open letter in which 150 activist groups claimed that sponsor, Coca-Cola, will be 'complicit in a humanitarian disaster in Tibet' if it fails to force the International Olympics Committee to direct the relay away from the territory.

Last week, pressure group Dream for Darfur published a sponsors' 'report card' in which it awarded 'low grades' to 16 sponsors it argued have failed to help bring security to the Sudanese region.

Hartmut Zastrow, executive director of Sport+Markt, warned that sponsors could not properly activate Olympics-related work in the current climate. 'No sponsor could possibly exploit the Olympic spirit in their campaigns right now, except in China,' he said.

Earlier this month, Coca-Cola scaled back its promotional activity surrounding the Japan leg of the torch relay. A spokesman said that heightened security had made it unrealistic.

Bob Heussner, senior vice-president of Games marketing at Octagon, said: 'This is a critical time for the torch relay and the Games. It is a time for cool heads and reasonable judgement. 'The next four to five months have the potential to be extraordinary, and marketers need to be in tune. I would advise sponsors to curtail their [activity around the torch relay].'

However, Zastrow said that the Olympic Games have always been a platform for discontent and did not believe the negative publicity would have an impact on the associated brands' long-term reputation.

'At the moment China is still the villain in the eye of the public,' he added. 'Olympics sponsors have never suffered [damage to their] image. Consumers can distinguish between the political situations of host countries and the engagement of a sponsor in a great international sporting event.'

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