HERZOGENAURACH, Germany: Rattled by protests directed at Adidas-Salomon's sponsorship of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, ceo Herbert Hainer counter-attacked the firm's critics at its  annual meeting last week, dismissing freedom lobbyists such as Reporters Sans Frontieres as "moralists who just emit rhetoric".

As the Official Sportswear Partner of this year's sportsfest, Adidas is in a delicate position: on the one hand it risks a political boycott of its products; on the other it risks a relationship rupture with China's communist regime.

There is also the little matter of jeopardizing the low-cost manufacturing of its brands in the People's Paradise should it offend the comrades.

Argues the lobby group: "Adidas is a sports brand that is recognised throughout the world and its logo ... will be everywhere during the Olympic Games.

"To avoid having its logo linked to human rights violations in China, the company's executives must lose no time in publicly voicing their disapproval for the repressive methods used by the Chinese government." 

But faced by the serried ranks of zero-counting shareholders, Hainer opted for realism rather than rhetoric, dollars rather than democracy.

"These people [critics] clearly believe that as sponsors we are in a position to influence the situation in Tibet," Hainer told shareholders. "They go even further, presenting our commitment to the Olympic Games as a breach of ethical standards.

"But a morality based on rhetoric, which only ever attacks the behaviour of others, definitely does not get us any further. We will not be held morally responsible for a situation which we did not create and for which we are not answerable.

"Our capabilities do not extend to solving diplomatic or political crises. Adidas is not a political company, nor am I a politician. And we do not manufacture products for governments or social systems. What we can do is to manufacture excellent products for each competitive athlete, as well as market these products for recreational use."

Data sourced from BrandRepublic (UK); additional content by WARC staff