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Corporate cynicism conceals Olympic triumphs

Tradition dictates that the mood in the run-up to an Olympic Games is characterised as much by cynicism around (*delete as appropriate) the expense, the unfinished stadia or the poor ticket sales as by enthusiasm for the feast of sporting action that awaits.

One complaint that is arguably more repeated than any other is the creeping corporatisation of an event that celebrates what is in essence the most social of activities.

So, purists will have been pleased to learn that sponsorship of the Games may not be the licence to print money that many assume it to be. Research published in the lead-up to Rio 2016 by marketing agency Greenlight found that almost half of UK consumers state that sponsoring the Olympics and Paralympics 2016 won’t impact their perception of a brand. Even more worrying for the likes of Coca Cola and McDonald’s, 18% said they wouldn’t even notice if a brand was to sponsor the tournament.

Yet despite the findings, the fact remains that for any dedicated Olympic viewer, and especially for anyone who has ever visited an Olympic park, it is near impossible to evade the bombardment of brand messaging from global giants. The fact that many such brands do not exactly epitomise a healthy, active lifestyle only serves to crank up the level of public opprobrium.

But the corporatisation of the Olympics also serves to obscure some of the genuinely great sustainability stories that emerge from the Games. Who remembers, for instance, that London 2012 achieved its target of sending zero waste to landfill with 70% re-used, recycled or composted? Or that the provision of free drinking water across the Games period was a world first for any Olympic or Paralympic Games?

The Marine Stewardship Council recently accounted that all cod served to athletes in the Rio 2016 Olympic Village will be MSC certified and comes from Visir, a family-run fishing business in south west Iceland. It’s another example of a good news story that is likely to be lost beneath an avalanche of brand marketing.

A healthy dose of cynicism is no bad thing when the Olympic Games collides with the corporate world. But neither should we forget that such sporting events can act as a catalyst for positive change in business practices.

The athletes shouldn’t be the only ones seizing the moment in Rio.