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Olympic sponsors face Ukraine challenge
Following an IOC decision to allow Russians and Belarusians to participate in next year’s Paris Olympics as “neutral athletes”, Ukraine is putting pressure on the Games’ sponsors.
Ukraine’s President Zelensky had previously called for these athletes to be barred from the Games and restated that view at the weekend, saying “Representatives of the terrorist state have no place at the Olympics and international tournaments.”
Now the diplomatic offensive is continuing, with the Kyiv Independent reporting that Ukraine has sent letters to several major sponsors of the Games aimed at ensuring their “reputation and support are not used for war propaganda”.
What it means
While it’s not clear which sponsors have been contacted, it’s a timely reminder for brands of the potential risks of being associated with ‘sportswashing’.
FIFA, for example, has just come in for criticism from the hosts of this year’s Women’s World Cup for striking a sponsorship deal with Saudi Arabia. Other tournament sponsors, including Adidas, Coca-Cola and Visa, may be less than thrilled to have their brand mentioned alongside a country with a questionable human rights record.
How much more might such concerns apply to any perceived support, even if indirect, for a country embarked on an unprovoked and murderous war?
When Russia first invaded Ukraine, companies across multiple sectors moved to limit ties with Russian companies. Some chose to shut their operations in that country or to pause shipments, while others were forced to act by a new sanctions regime.
Almost a year on, however, a recent study claimed that many Western companies are still carrying on business as usual in Russia. The picture is complicated, however, as luxury brand Paul Smith has found, with its products continuing to be sold in Russia via a franchise partner; last week it said it was ceasing supplies to the distributor and had requested stores trading in its name be closed.
Sourced from Kyiv Independent, Financial Times, Politico, Guardian
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