Steven Spielberg pulls out of Olympics

The withdrawal of Steven Spielberg as an artistic adviser for the Beijing Olympics has attracted a lot of media attention and the move may mark the start of PR blow to China.

Well, it draws my attention because I am working for some of the TOP sponsors.

In case you don’t know, Spielberg has decided not to participate in this summer’s Beijing Olympic Games on the ground that China is slackened in pressuring the Sudan government in resolving the issue in Darfur. His action can be a tipping point of a new round of PR attack and defense battle on top of all the issues that have already been overshadowing the Games. The ripple effect could put others involved, like Quincy Jones and Ang Lee, to state a position on the Darfur issue and even lead sponsors to reconsider their roles.

In fact, activists are already making Olympic sponsors their next target. Olympic Dream for Darfur has released a report on Olympic corperate sponsors for their response to the Darfur issue, only a few of them were awarded a passing grade. It has given sponsors a month to take action, or a series of protests will be planned at the headquarters of Olympic sponsors and call for supporters to switch off the TV during the ads of these sponsors.

Setting aside the rationale behind Spielberg’s dramatic withdrawal in a high profile manner, and whether it is right to link up political issue with a sports event, it seems that the Darfur, Tibet, or other political and human rights issues will likely continue. Corporate sponsors are better to have a position statement handy, and monitor their employee reaction to the issues. As a PR professional, even if you don’t have clients directly involved in Olympics, it is good to closely monitor the progress and learn from this live lesson of crisis management.

I have been involved on both sides of the battle and understand why the activists are using Olympics as a platform to draw public attention on the issue. What else can you draw more media coverage than Olympics this year? The same would happen if the Olympics were happening in US, I am sure the green groups would step up and pressure the US government to respond to the global warming issue or Kyoto Protocol.

Earlier this week, IOC issued a guideline on athletes blogging during Olympics. Since the movement has also won support from some athletes, and IOC does not rule out athletes’ freedom to talk about their political preference, I think it gives athletes the most power if they are speaking in their personal blog or in Beijing Games in front of the audience, even though Section 51 of the Olympic Charter, which applies to all participants, says: “No kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas.”

Similar things did happen in the past. At the 1968 Summer Games in Mexico City, American athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos were kicked off the team after standing on the podium with their fists — clad in black gloves — pointed to the sky, in a statement of solidarity with the civil rights movement.

Now it seems that sweeping things under the carpet is no longer an option and the Chinese government has to deal with it one way or the other. Let’s see how it goes.


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