Toyota, Panasonic, Fujitsu… The many Japanese sponsors of the Tokyo Olympic Games face, two days before the opening ceremony, a dilemma facing an event that one might even consider “toxic” to their image in the country because of covid-19 .
“The Olympics have become toxic in Tokyo, where they have very weak support from the general public,” Jules Boykoff, a university professor specializing in sports and politics, told AFP. “Being associated with such an unpopular event has become risky in terms of brand image. It is something never seen in the political history of the Olympic Games”.
Business lawyer and sports expert, Taisuke Matsumoto agrees and adds: “The Tokyo Olympics brand has completely lost its good reputation. Therefore, for Japanese sponsors, it is better not to exploit their rights associated with the event than to exercise them”. A clear example was the position taken by the global auto giant Toyota last Monday, when it announced that its executives will not attend the opening ceremony, which takes place this Friday.
The automaker thus seeks to align itself with the general public, excluded from the ceremony, as well as from almost all competitions in the Olympic Games due to the new coronavirus. Other Japanese sponsors followed suit. Panasonic and Bridgestone directors will not attend the opening party, and executives from technology groups NEC and Fujitsu are also out of the event, spokespeople for those companies confirmed.
Major International Olympic Committee (IOC) sponsors such as Toyota, Panasonic and Bridgestone, all committed to multiple Olympics, have contributed $500 million to Tokyo 2020 (approximately R$2.62 billion as of July 20) .
Another 60 Japanese sponsors injected US$3.3 billion into the event (approximately R$17.24 billion), a record number for the Games. However, while respecting their financial obligations, they all found themselves in a difficult situation with the postponement of the Olympics by one year, from 2020 to 2021, and the growing opposition of the Japanese population to hosting the event, according to numerous polls.
In May, the Asahi newspaper, the official sponsor of the Olympics, asked for the event to be cancelled, which it called a “threat to health.” The coup de grace for local sponsors came in two phases. The first took place in March this year, when the ban on foreign spectators to the Games was announced, and the second in early July, when it was decided that the competitions would take place behind closed doors, due to the worsening health situation due to the pandemic of covid-19 in Japan.
The absence of spectators essentially penalizes smaller Japanese sponsors, eager to offer tickets to their clients and professional contributors, which is often a very effective public relations tool in Japan, Matsumoto recently told AFP.
Scandals in series
Fearing a “boomerang effect”, Toyota gave up on an advertising campaign related to the Olympic Games in Japan, and Bridgestone will be content to engage with fans through social media, with content that mainly highlights athletes, such as explained a spokesman.
Panasonic, meanwhile, will continue to use the Olympic and Paralympic logos for some of its products and advertising, but told AFP that collaborating with Japanese tennis star Naomi Osaka, who recently became the brand’s ambassador, “didn’t is focused on the Olympics”.
In addition to covid-19, the Tokyo Games were also peppered with other scandals. Former Organizing Committee chairman Yoshiro Mori had to resign in February after saying that women talk a lot at meetings. Later, another sexist scandal led to the fall of the artistic director of the Olympic Games, and on Monday it was the fall of one of the composers of the opening ceremony’s music for harassing disabled people as a student.
The world’s biggest sponsors of the Olympics, which have goals beyond Japan and the local market, are less exposed and “may play with long-term thinking,” according to Boykoff. This is the case for brands such as Coca-Cola, AirBnB or Procter & Gamble. New risks now appear on the horizon with the Beijing 2022 Olympic Winter Games, which has already generated politically motivated boycott calls.
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