Who Should Win Out: Team Spon­sors or Per­sonal Spon­sors?

Beijing Review - - FORUM -

At the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, NBA le­gend Michael Jor­dan draped him­self in the U.S. flag to ob­scure the team’s of­fi­cial spon­sor, Ree­bok, be­cause he was en­dorsed by its ri­val, Nike. Re­cently, a sim­i­lar scene took place at the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta, In­done­sia.

Sun Yang, China’s flam­boy­ant cham­pion swim­mer, had to choose be­tween Anta, the Chi­nese del­e­ga­tion’s of­fi­cial spon­sor, and his own spon­sor 361°. Af­ter win­ning the Men’s 800M Freestyle race, Sun chose his per­sonal spon­sor and came out for the medal cer­e­mony in the bright yel­low col­ors of the brand.

Later in the evening, dur­ing the cer­e­mony for the Men’s 4x200m Freestyle Re­lay, in which China fin­ished sec­ond, Sun wore the of­fi­cial uni­form but cov­ered up his white jer­sey with the Chi­nese flag. Chi­nese sports­wear giant Anta is­sued a state­ment, say­ing it had cre­ated an award­win­ning out­fit for the Chi­nese del­e­ga­tion that rep­re­sented the spir­i­tual force of Chi­nese ath­letes and that ac­cord­ing to the con­tract, they must “wear the of­fi­cial award-win­ning uni­forms when they step onto the podium.” The state­ment then con­demned Sun’s de­ci­sion to pro­mote the 361° brand—one of Anta’s main com­peti­tors—as plac­ing per­sonal in­ter­ests above na­tional in­ter­ests.

The con­tro­versy sur­round­ing Sun’s choice in sports­wear has since be­come a hot topic in China. Some ac­cuse him of lack­ing re­spect for rules and dis­ci­pline, while others be­lieve there is still a lack of clear guid­ance on how to deal with th­ese sit­u­a­tions.

Clear rules needed Zhao Hei (

The Bei­jing News): Look­ing back at all of the events, we can’t blame Sun for his lack of con­trac­tual spirit. There is a con­tract be­tween Sun’s del­e­ga­tion and Anta, but Sun also has a con­tract with 361°. There­fore, while Anta com­plains about Sun, 361° is pleased with his be­hav­ior.

The big­gest headache sur­round­ing this is­sue is how to ex­plic­itly stip­u­late when a sports star at­tached to a cer­tain or­ga­ni­za­tion must wear the out­fit of­fered by that or­ga­ni­za­tion’s spon­sor. I per­son­ally don’t agree with Sun’s be­hav­ior af­ter the Men’s 800M Freestyle com­pe­ti­tion. Al­though Anta may not have signed an agree­ment with ev­ery mem­ber of the Chi­nese swim­ming team, it ex­pects the team to com­pel ath­letes to wear its uni­form through ad­min­is­tra­tive means. Sun’s team should know clearly that wear­ing award-win­ning out­fits pro­vided by the team’s spon­sor is a rule. This should be an un­der­stood agree­ment. Since no mem­ber of the Chi­nese del­e­ga­tion asked ques­tions about what to wear, this should be seen as tacit con­sent.

Re­cently, there have been con­flicts be­tween ath­letes’ per­sonal spon­sors and team spon­sors, and there will be more in the fu­ture. How to tackle this is­sue through mar­ket rules is a big ques­tion mark for all sides in­volved.

Ran Yu (the­ory.gmw.cn):

Sun’s award­win­ning track suit con­tro­versy has set the me­dia ablaze since it hap­pened. De­spite vary­ing opin­ions, at least some con­sen­sus has been reached: It was an ac­tual vi­o­la­tion. The de­bate now is on whether he should be ac­cused of “plac­ing per­sonal in­ter­ests over na­tional in­ter­ests” as Anta claimed, and if it is an ex­am­ple of vi­o­lat­ing rules since the award-win­ning out­fit rep­re­sents the iden­tity and im­age of the coun­try. Ob­jec­tively speak­ing, the de­trac­tors’ rhetoric has gone a lit­tle too far and off topic, since this is in essence a very sim­ple mat­ter.

Re­spect for the spirit of a con­tract and for spon­sors is an im­por­tant pre­req­ui­site for com­pet­i­tive sports in seek­ing mar­ke­ti­za­tion. Con­tract-based or prac­tice-based, Anta en­joys the exclusive spon­sor­ship of the Chi­nese del­e­ga­tion at the Asian Games. There­fore, it is nat­u­ral that Anta wants to safe­guard its le­git­i­mate rights. How­ever, the rhetoric should be dealt with in a more ra­tio­nal man­ner, since it is, strictly speak­ing, just a com­mer­cial mat­ter.

One thing to make clear is that this con­tro­versy in­di­cates a vi­o­la­tion com­mit­ted not di­rectly by Sun, but a vi­o­la­tion of agree­ment be­tween Team China and Anta. There are doubts as to whether th­ese agree­ments are oral or writ­ten agree­ments, laid out as reg­u­la­tions or car­ried out as part of tra­di­tional prac­tices. For a long time, the com­mer­cial de­vel­op­ment of the Chi­nese Olympic Com­mit­tee, the In­ter­na­tional Olympic Com­mit­tee and in­di­vid­ual ath­letes have re­peat­edly con­tra­dicted each other. Ev­ery­thing can be boiled down to bad man­age­ment and a lack of pro­fes­sion­al­ism within the sports sys­tem.ĝĝ

An ob­vi­ous prob­lem is that na­tional teams or event del­e­ga­tions of­ten have a group spon­sor­ship con­tract, but they can­not ef­fec­tively en­sure the star ath­letes on the team will com­ply with the com­mer­cial con­tract signed by the team. Ath­letes there­fore re­peat­edly chal­lenge the con­tracted team en­dorse­ments, which re­sults in losses for both sides: The com­mer­cial value of star ath­letes is fre­quently ques­tioned and the mar­ket-ori­ented re­form of re­lated pro­jects faces greater bar­ri­ers.

Against such a back­drop of deep­en­ing re­form and mar­ke­ti­za­tion in com­pet­i­tive sports, there are still many am­bi­gu­i­ties as to com­mer­cial terms and spe­cific rules.

In most cases, peo­ple only see the sweet smiles on stage but not the bit­ter en­tan­gle­ments be­hind the scenes. Hope­fully, this con­tro­versy will serve as a turn­ing

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