Wednesday, August 20, 2008

"Did You Hear?" Why The IOC Selected China

You have probably heard a conversation like this one at least once since the beginning of the Beijing Olympics:

"Can you believe those Chinese gymnasts are 16? I can't"

"Well, they have passports that say they're 16."

"That just means the government is involved. They fudge on athletes' ages just like they fudged on the identity of the singer and the phony fireworks. And did you hear they [insert offensive authoritarian move here]. Everyone's afraid to call them on it because they're the host country."

"You're right. The real mistake was that they agreed to let China host in the first place."


I've not only heard that conversation, I've initiated it once or twice.

So is the International Olympic Committee to blame? Or is it solely China's fault since they did not respect all of their commitments?

Why did the IOC choose China? The IOC is an autonomous body and its voting members are free to vote for the host city they feel will best serve their cause. But one number, more significant than any of Michael Phelps' world records, stands above the rest. The number is 62. At least 62% of the IOC's total revenue comes from the United States. More than three fifths. Sesenta y dos por ciento. Soixante-deux. In other words, a truckload of Olympic cash is American. Three out of every five truck loads to be precise (1).

No international corporation would vote against its biggest client's interests. The IOC, a large international corporation itself, out of simple self preservation, would never vote in such a manner as to alienate its golden goose, the good ol' U.S. of A. (2). So why would the IOC have selected China, home to an authoritarian regime, a communist country that violates international human rights, a country whose values stand in apparent opposition to those of the U.S.?

62% says it is because the U.S. wanted China to host the games.

Politically and economically the U.S. had a lot to gain. In fact, the U.S. has probably benefited more than China itself. The Olympics act as an international moral cleansing agent. If the IOC can do business with the Chinese, then global corporations, many based in the United States, can justify doing business with the Chinese (despite their human rights record and unfair market practices). In addition, western consumers can continue to buy $4 shirts and $7 watches made in China without feeling that nagging guilt about sweatshop labor or low environmental standards in Chinese manufacturing.

The U.S. political class can also point to the Olympics as proof that the Chinese are opening up to western ideas of democracy (even though the opposite is true). A huge sporting spectacle covers a multitude of diplomatic sins.

And this may be why the international community, including the U.S., will not protest too much if (alleged) thirteen year-old Chinese gymnasts continue winning gold.

(1) From The Chicago Tribune.
(2) It could be argued that the IOC did alienate the U.S. in 1980 when the Olympics were awarded to the USSR. However, this was before the huge TV money started pouring in. The 1984 Olympics in L.A. mark the beginning of the modern corporate ($) era for the Olympics.


SM Sprenger said...

Isn't the real economic issue that the Chinese hold the note on American national debt? If the Chinese ever decide to sell their dollar reserves, or stop buying our T-bills everytime we need money for phony stimulus packages, pork for Congressmen or for the rathole that is Iraq, we're going down.

Corry Cropper said...


Jared said...

There is an article in the August 20th edition of the Wall Street Journal that talks about corporate America's interest in the Olympics in China. The article is entitled "The Rewards of Olympic Hospitality". It mentions GE and Coca-Cola spending an estimated $400 million on sponsorship and marketing during the Olymipics. Sponsorship brings perks and the companies are using the perks to send more representatives of its companies to the games.

It makes you wonder what underlying purposes the companies may have in sending its employees to the games? It seems obvious to me that the companies are using all the tools it has available to get its foot further in the door of China's booming economy.

marc said...

What? China has moral shortcomings? That's not what I heard on Nick Jr's hit toddler show, Ni hao kai lan! Next thing I know you'll be telling me that Tolee, the panda-obsessed Koala bear can't really talk!