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For Olympic Sponsors, ‘China Is an Exception’

  • January 28, 2022

Adidas, Nike and other fashion companies faced nationwide boycotts in China after they expressed concerns about reports of forced labor in Xinjiang, the region where the Communist Party has forced millions of Uyghur Muslims into mass detention and re-education camps. When the fashion retailer HM pledged to stop buying cotton from Xinjiang, a boycott by Chinese consumers cost it around $74 million in lost sales over one quarter.

Even one of the top Olympic sponsors, Intel, faced a backlash last month after the company posted a letter calling on international suppliers to avoid sourcing products from Xinjiang. In the face of the fury, Intel rewrote the letter within days to remove the reference to Xinjiang.

“The space to please both sides has evaporated,” said Jude Blanchette, a scholar at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “When choosing who to upset, it’s either a bad week or two of press in the U.S. versus a very real and justified fear that you’ll lose market access in China.”

Top sponsors have sidestepped questions, at times awkwardly, about whether their support effectively whitewashes the Communist Party’s authoritarian rule. The Olympics, executives argue, should not be politicized, pointing to the Olympic Charter, which says as much, despite a long history of political intrigue surrounding the Games.

Only four major sponsors — Omega, Intel, Airbnb and Procter Gamble — responded to requests for comment. Omega, the official timekeeper and data handler of the Olympic Games, said that since it started its partnership with the Olympic Games in 1932, “it has been our policy not to get involved in certain political issues because it would not advance the cause of sport in which our commitment lies.”

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