February 04, 2014
What’s the problem? The Winter Olympics in Sochi are being politicized because of questions about human rights. Human rights questions and the Olympics aren’t news. It happened in Beijing. And it’s happening again now. So, some people are calling for a boycott. Some bars are even boycotting Russian vodka (this is that serious, folks). And Cher refused an invitation to perform there.
Who is impacted? Obviously the athletes. And the LGBT community at large. But lots of eyes are turning to the corporate sponsors. If Cher won’t go to the Olympics and people won’t drink Russian vodka—should corporate sponsors spend the money to even show up?
What do we think Olympic Corporate Sponsors should do? Stop your whining. OF COURSE YOU SHOULD GO! Take a deep breath, and do what you are there to do. My dad used to tell me when you are up to your waist in alligators, remember the object of the exercise is to drain the swamp. So, corporate sponsors—drain the swamp. Don’t lose focus. Remember the object of the exercise. It was to support the Olympics, global camaraderie, the athletes, and the dream, NOT to weigh in on Russia, their policies, or their politics. The issue that has nothing to do with the reason you are there. So, stay the course. And find the message that allows you to focus on the Olympics and not the Olympic host country…and their politics.
So, sounds easy. But if people want them to boycott, what should they say? There is nothing less political than hard work. The beauty of victory. The agony of defeat. So, Corporate Sponsors, I say to you…don’t allow yourselves to be politicized. Keep your language focused on what we all agree on. On the things that make us tune in to the Olympics to begin with. On the reasons we tear up during medal ceremonies and at the stories behind the athletes and their families. So, when you talk about your sponsorship—sponsor the Olympics. Sponsor the Athletes. Sponsor their families (I’m talking to you P&G). Sponsor their dreams. Sponsor hard work. Sponsor the spirit of coming together.
Easy enough if sponsors control the message, but what happens when they are asked the tough question? How can you sponsor the Olympics when they are being held in a country with a well-debated human rights record? Answer them with pride: “How can we NOT? We are here focused on one thing. The Olympic Games. And all that they represent. This is not political. In fact, there is nothing less political than this. We are here to support the athletes. Their hopes, dreams, and countless hours of hard work. We are here to support the spirit of competition. The global community coming together. We are here to find common ground. And support the things that make all of us great. That is why we are here. Period.” And leave the politics of Russia to Russia.