The Morning Journal (Lorain, OH)

Rights groups target sponsors like Airbnb for Beijing Games

- By Stephen Wade

In one corner are the 15 leading Olympic sponsors, many household names like Airbnb, Coca-Cola, Visa, Toyota, Samsung, and General Electric. Together they pay at least $1 billion to the Internatio­nal Olympic Committee, and in the next four-year Olympic cycle the payments could reach $2 billion.

They are joined by Beijing’s 2022 Winter Olympics, which opens in just under a year. Sponsors want the Olympic connection, but they risk damaging their brand because of reported human-rights abuses against Muslim Uyghurs, Tibetans and other minorities in China.

In the other corner is a small core of internatio­nal lawyers and activists. The have branded these the “Genocide Games” and are pressuring sponsors, the IOC, and world sports federation­s to acknowledg­e the issues.

Thousands of Olympic athletes are caught in the middle. For most, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime chance for fame and a medal. But they’re on their own. Those who speak out may be banned by Olympic bodies, dropped by sponsors, and threatened by the Chinese state.

“It’s not fair that these huge institutio­ns who can speak out are going to leave it to the individual athletes to do this,” Blair McDougall, campaign director for the British-based Stop Uyghur Genocide, told the Associated Press. “The governing bodies could speak out, the sponsors, the IOC.” Instead, there is silence. “Once again athletes are being used as pawns,” said Rob Koehler, director general of Global Athlete, an advocacy group for Olympic athletes.

Human-rights groups have initially targeted Airbnb and CEO Brian Chesky.

The World Uyghur Congress and other advocates for Uyghurs and Tibetans have previously called for

moving the games, or some type of boycott.

“Airbnb describe themselves as a company that talks of having an ethos,” McDougall said. “So far they have ignored us.”

To grab attention, campaigner­s have designed a mock-ad linking Airbnb to the internment camps and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Although sponsors account for about 18% of the IOC’s income, 73% comes from selling broadcast rights.

The American network NBC accounts for about half of the broadcast income.

This will be Beijing’s second Olympics in 14 years, following the 2008 Summer Games that were supposed to improve human rights in China. These Olympics landed in China after several European bidders withdrew over costs and public opposition. The IOC was left with two choices: Beijing or Almaty, Kazakhstan. Beijing won in a narrow 4440 vote.

“Our direct request of the sponsors is simple,” McDougall said. “Meet with the Uyghurs and people who have survived the network of camps so that you are not complicit in the use of the games in silencing the issue; in being used as a propaganda tool to distract from what’s happening.”

AP contacted the three Japan-based sponsors. Toyota’s reply was typical in regard to the internment of Uyghurs in northweste­rn China. Panasonic did not immediatel­y respond, and Bridgeston­e sent a form letter from the IOC.

“As for the recent situation in Xinjiang, we are not in the position to comment on it,” Toyota said in a statement.

McDougall contacted the World Curling Federation, which initially responded by blocking him on social media.

He said they have since lifted the block “but have gone silent.”

“They’ll be getting pressure not to be the ones who break the dam of silence,” McDougall said.

 ?? MARK SCHIEFELBE­IN — THE ASSOCIATED PRESS ?? The logos for the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics and Paralympic­s are seen at an exhibit at a visitors center at the Winter Olympic venues on the outskirts of Beijing.
MARK SCHIEFELBE­IN — THE ASSOCIATED PRESS The logos for the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics and Paralympic­s are seen at an exhibit at a visitors center at the Winter Olympic venues on the outskirts of Beijing.

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