Anglo-Australian mining and petrochemical giant BHP Billiton is the latest - and most unlikely sponsor - of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.

Named last week by the Beijing Organizing Committee for the Games of the XXIX Olympiad, Billiton rejoices in the splendour of its formal title: Diversified Minerals and Medals Sponsor of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games.

Among Billiton's planet-enhancing activities are the mining of aluminium, energy coal and metallurgical coal, copper, manganese, iron ore, uranium, nickel, silver and titanium minerals. It also boasts substantial interests in oil, gas, liquefied natural gas and diamonds.

Not a company most people would associate with such non-quantifiable values such as the Olympic spirit. So why the sudden interest in the glory of sport?

Cynics such as Ian Roper, Macquarie Bank's Shanghai-based commodities analyst, points out relations with the People's Republic, one of the planet's largest consumers and importers of iron ore, are somewhat frayed by Billiton's constant hiking of the cost of steel, up 71.5% so far this year.

Roper scents appeasement of the communist Chinese government's wrath ahead of the next round of price negotiations. "[Billiton] could certainly use the good publicity," he opines.

And the sporting comrades don't disagree: "I'm sure it will further improve our sound relationship," smarmed Wang Wei, secretary general of the Beijing Olympic organizing committee.

However, Billiton's senior executives are aghast that anyone might think them driven by anything other than altruism: "This is certainly not something that is done in response to some business ambition or some business driver," protested Clinton Dines, president of BHP Billiton in China.

Data sourced from International Herald Tribune Online; additional content by WARC staff