Propaganda Sports Style: The Big Business Of The Olympic Games

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Arthur Solomon

When I served in a psychological warfare unit during my military days, there was an iron-clad rule — we don’t use propaganda against American citizens. That’s good.

But civilian authorities and businesses use propaganda against American citizens 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year and 366 days in a leap year.  The propaganda is camouflaged as advertising, public relations and social media offerings. That’s bad.

The propaganda is disseminated, to name of a few of the most obvious dispersers, by financial advisors, social media “influencers,” actors reading a script and perhaps the least qualified  by athletes, who know little or nothing about the products they are paid to hawk.

But at top of the sports propaganda heap is the International Olympic Committee (IOC), which for years has been claiming that their games promote harmony among nations, even though history proves otherwise. 

So be prepared to be bombarded with “feel good” propaganda February 4-20, when NBCUniversal will be televising the Beijing Winter Olympic Games from a country devoid of the freedoms that citizens in non-totalitarian countries enjoy. And making it all possible is the International Olympic Committee (IOC), which ever since 1936 has awarded its propaganda-rich games many times to countries who have imprisoned, killed its citizens, created  devastating wars and still believes that “might is right.” 

Of course the IOC couldn’t do it without the money support of NBCUniversal and American “proud sponsors,” which view China as a vast market for their products and discount the totalitarian nature of the country’s internal politics and its menacing and expansive foreign policy, which puts it at odds with the U.S.

Personally, I believe the low point in the IOC’s scandal-ridden history occurred in 1936, when they refused to take the games away from Nazi Germany. 

In what is now shamefully remembered in IOC history as the Nazi Olympics, Germany was permitted to host both the Summer and Winter Olympic Games despite it being known for its persecutions of Jews and that thousands of people were held in concentration camps because they didn’t fit the Nazi image of what a person should look like or they had opposing political views.

But that wasn’t the only time that the IOC permitted a totalitarian country to use the Olympics as a propaganda tool. Sadly, China once again joins a list of totalitarian countries which have hosted the games. Previous dictatorial countries that were awarded the IOC propaganda vehicle, in addition to Germany, are Mexico in 1968, Russia in 1980 and 2014; Yugoslavia in 1984, China in 2008 and the upcoming 2022 games in Beijing. In each case, the IOC decided that its games were more important than the vast majority of citizens of those countries who were denied the rights of a free press, expression or religion. In affect, they valued a few athletes over the vast majority of people who weren’t. And they still do.

In several weeks the world, propelled by television rights billions and “proud sponsors” money, will soon be offered the latest edition of the IOC’s propaganda-rich sporting event, the Beijing Olympics in China, a country whose policies are the antithesis of democratic ideals. (In the U.S. the Olympics will be televised by NBCUniversal on NBC and its platforms.)

In one aspect, the criticism of holding a world-wide gathering of athletes in China is similar to the criticism of all Olympic Games, even those held in democratic countries. But there’s a big difference.

For years, China has been criticized by government officials of various democratic countries and human rights organizations for its treatment of Uyghur Muslims, its crackdown on freedom in Hong Kong, its policies toward Tibet and Taiwan and its expansive policies. 

Another difference is the stronger than usual opposition to the Beijing Games by elected representatives in Congress. “In the U.S., a bipartisan group of congressional representatives has called for a boycott of the Games over human rights abuses by the host nation,” reported Grady McGregor in Fortune. “The U.S. lawmakers condemn Beijing for alleged mistreatment of Tibetans, and the mostly Muslim Uyghur population in the western Chinese province of Xinjiang, as well as for a national security crackdown in Hong Kong. Some U.S. representatives have proposed a bill that would prohibit U.S. firms from doing business with the federal government if they sponsor the Beijing 2022 Games.”

Despite the calls from human rights organizations for a full boycott of the Beijing Olympics, it appears that the most that will happen is a diplomatic boycott. U.S.  politicians urging NBCUniversal not to televise the games are like one rain drop falling in the South China Sea, the effect is none.

No matter how they try to camouflage it, the Olympics Games is operated as a business monopoly in need of a Sherman Act, the 1890 anti-trust law that  outlaws “every contract, combination, or conspiracy in restraint of trade,” and any “monopolization, attempted monopolization, or conspiracy or combination to monopolize.” 

There’s an old adage, long disputed, that “money is the root of all evil.” But one thing that is not disputed is that money is the root of the Olympic Games. 

 ‘If you’re trying to guess how much NBCUniversal paid for the Olympics, get ready for some sticker shock. The shorter answer is, the media corporation paid $12 billion for the broadcast rights of each edition of the Olympic Games from the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, to the 2032 Summer Games in Brisbane, Australia,” reported Dan Clarendon of Market Realist, which “ specializes in must-know news highlights, in-depth analysis, and overviews of companies as well as industries.”  

In 2014, NBCUniversal paid $7.75 billion for the exclusive broadcast rights to the Olympic Games from 2022 to 2032. NBC didn’t pony up that money just to provide entertainment for its viewing audience. It was a business decision, just as are the decisions of “proud sponsors” of the Olympics, with the profit factor being the deciding issue whether to sponsor or not. If this isn’t big business, what is?

So despite all the outcries from representatives of democratic countries, and all the threatening statements from the Chinese government to retaliate against against countries that speak badly of the Beijing Games, things will precede as planned. And that’s just dandy for the IOC and the American businesses that act like the three wise Japanese monkeys who “see no evil, hear no evil and talk no evil” and obviously have no concern of financing a two-week Chinese propaganda bonanza that will be televised by NBC Universal from February 3 -20 as long as their cash registers go “ker-ching, ker-ching.”


The Unspoken PR Tenet: Bad News Is Good News for Our Business By Arthur SolomonAbout the Author: Arthur Solomon, a former journalist, was a senior VP/senior counselor at Burson-Marsteller, and was responsible for restructuring, managing and playing key roles in significant national and international sports and non-sports programs. He now is a frequent contributor to public relations publications, consults on public relations projects and was on the Seoul Peace Prize nominating committee.  He can be reached at arthursolomon4pr@juno.com.