Fewer Japanese companies sponsor Team Japan for Beijing Games amid Tokyo 2020 woes, issues in China

Yosuke Hayasaka / The Yomiuri Shimbun
Officials make preparations at Genting Snow Park, a Beijing Winter Olympics venue, on Jan. 25 in Zhangjiakou, Hebei Province.

A few Japanese companies are among the Olympic sponsors supporting the Games and Japan’s delegation at the Beijing Winter Olympics, which start Friday.

In light of the bitter taste that remains for many of these companies after they couldn’t gain enough of a promotional effect from the Tokyo Games last year, and amid the human rights issues in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, Hong Kong and elsewhere in China, there have been moves among firms to refrain from being involved in the Games.

Toyota Motor Corp., Panasonic Corp. and Bridgestone Corp. are Worldwide Olympic Partners, just like The Coca-Cola Company and Intel Corp., meaning they have entered sponsorship deals with the International Olympic Committee.

For the Beijing Winter Olympics, they are supporting the operation of the Games. Toyota provides vehicles to transport athletes and officials, supplying at least 2,200 automobiles such as the Mirai fuel-cell vehicle and Coaster minibus. Panasonic provides audiovisual equipment and appliances, while Bridgestone supplies winter tires for official vehicles.

‘Risks involved’

Five companies, including Mitsui Fudosan Co., have sponsorship deals with the Japanese Olympic Committee to support the activities of Team Japan, offering products and services to athletes and others related to the delegation.

Ajinomoto Co. provides amino acid-based food and supports athletes with supplements, while Airweave Inc. supplies mattress pads and comforters to Team Japan.

Tobu Tower Skytree Co. will illuminate Tokyo Skytree in the image of Japan’s national flag for the duration of the Games, and Interbrand Japan, Inc. cooperated in drawing up the emblem and other items adopted for the official apparel of Team Japan.

“We would be delighted if we could enliven the sentiment toward the Olympics in this country, currently in low spirits amid the COVID-19 pandemic,” said an official in charge of public relations at Interbrand.

Compared with 67 companies that entered sponsorship deals with the Tokyo Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games for Tokyo 2020, there are relatively few Japanese sponsors for the Beijing Winter Games.

Most Tokyo Games events were held without spectators, and the Beijing Winter Games are also limiting spectator numbers. With the opportunities for publicity limited, companies have apparently shied away from becoming Games sponsors.

“As companies could not get the chance to gain exposure during the Tokyo Games, many firms have been thinking about the risks involved [with sponsorship],” said Keiko Momii, a senior executive board member of the JOC.

‘Strategic ambiguity’

Human rights issues in China, including those in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, have also cast a shadow over the Games. If companies emphasize vigorous support for the Beijing Games, they might be considered as leaning toward China, thus coming under criticism from the United States and European countries. Concerns run deep that their business would be adversely affected as a consequence.

An official at a company that was a Tokyo 2020 sponsor said: “The Tokyo Games were held without spectators, so doubts remain whether we could get the effect we expect [by being a sponsor]. Furthermore, there are also diplomatic issues involved with the Beijing Games.”

The Japanese government decided last December not to send any senior government officials or cabinet ministers to the Beijing Winter Olympics. While being in line with the United States, Britain and other countries that have embarked on a “diplomatic boycott” of the Beijing Games, the Japanese government does not use the word “boycott” in a show of some consideration to China.

In business circles, there are many officials who highly rate the government’s “strategic ambiguity” of not making its position clear.

“It’s just as well to be dubbed ‘ambiguous,’” said Keidanren Chairman Masakazu Tokura. “Careful thought has been given about national interests in order to find some middle ground.”