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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

Olympics: Jittery sponsors stay loyal to China, but worry in private

March 28, 2008

BEIJING March 27, 2008 (AFP) — Big corporations are still loyal backers
of the Beijing Olympics, looking beyond boycott calls and protests over
Tibet, Darfur and human rights to their long term interests in China.

Firms such as Coca-Cola, Visa, Volkswagen and Adidas are jittery about
the bad news swirling around the Games but are even more worried about
offending Beijing's rulers, according to experts.

"The Chinese government is the gatekeeper to 1.3 billion potential
consumers so they are choosing their words carefully," said Damien Ryan,
a Hong Kong-based media advisor with Ryan Financial Communications.

"Nobody wants to say a word that could be used against them down the road."

As recently as three months ago the Beijing Olympics looked like a
win-win marketing dream for the world's top companies who fought tooth
and nail, and paid tens of millions of dollars, for the right to sponsor
the event.

The opportunities remain dazzling in a country where the consumer base
is measured in hundreds of millions, but suddenly the companies find
themselves in a position where they have to explain themselves.

"The line so far is that the Olympics are a force for good and sponsors
are part of that change for good," said Ryan.

But sponsors have been unable to deflect pressure from campaign groups
who are urging them to bring pressure to bear on the International
Olympic Committee (IOC) and on the Beijing Games organisers.

Group such as the Students for a Free Tibet, which want the IOC to
reroute the torch relay to eliminate the Tibet leg, are planning to
launch grass roots campaigns targeting sponsors.

Dream for Darfur, an organisation set up to pressure China into helping
end the bloodshed in the western Sudanese region, has also urged Olympic
sponsors to speak out publicly on the issue.

Those who fail to do so will face "intensive advocacy," that may include
demonstrations at corporate headquarters, said Jill Savitt, the group's
director.

Coca-Cola, Samsung and computer maker Lenovo, which are sponsors of the
torch relay in addition to being top Olympic sponsors, and other firms
have shown no signs of wavering publicly on their backing for the event
or the Games themselves.

Coca-Cola said in a statement it was "inappropriate" for sponsors to
comment on the political situation of individual nations and that it
"firmly believed the Olympics are a force for good."

"We remain committed to supporting the torch relay, which provides a
unique opportunity to share the Olympic values of unity, pride and
inspiration with people all over the world," the firm added.

Adidas, another veteran Olympic sponsor, expressed concern about Tibet
and also addressed boycott calls.

"We are concerned about the recent situation in Tibet. We hope that the
situation will calm down very soon," the firm said in a statement.

"We believe that a boycott of the Beijing Olympic Games would be
counter-productive and we have therefore reiterated our commitment to
the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games."

Privately, however, firms are worried, according to western marketing
experts in Beijing.

They have appointed crisis management teams, increased their budgets for
media consultants, and have been talking privately to the Beijing
Olympic organising committee, which has invited sponsors to Beijing for
talks later this month

At least one multinational sponsor is considering cutting its budget for
Olympic-related marketing in the west because it fears a possible
consumer backlash there, where opposition to China's Tibet crackdown is
high.

The sponsors have also become more conciliatory towards human rights and
other groups.

Last year, multinational Olympic sponsors refused to meet with Dream for
Darfur representatives.

That has changed. Savitt and Hollywood actress Mia Farrow, the
organisation's founder, have been meeting with sponsors for the past
week in the United States.

Nicholas Bequelin, a researcher for Human Rights Watch, said big firms
were also "much more open to meeting with us and hearing from us."

"We have told them that there are high reputational risks to be
associated with any event that takes place in a one party dictatorship,"
he said.
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