David Owen

With the extended Pyeongchang 2018/Tokyo 2020 Olympic cycle finally drawing to a close, two of the grand old names of United States industry will be ending their association with the International Olympic Committee (IOC)’s The Olympic Partner (TOP) worldwide sponsorship programme.

Dow and General Electric (GE) do not appear on the roster of worldwide partners for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games.

This list of 14 companies has consequently taken on a noticeably more international sheen, with China, Germany, France, Japan, South Korea and Switzerland all represented.

Having said that, the presence of corporations such as Coca-Cola, Intel and Procter & Gamble means that the US presence is still strong.

Given the strained state of US-China relations, and the rapid approach of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics and Paralympics, now little more than five months away, the timing of Dow and GE’s withdrawal may spare the companies some awkward questions about linking their names to a project designed to show up the controversial administration headed by strongman President Xi Jinping in the best possible light.

What it does not do is indicate that the appeal of the IOC’s flagship sponsorship programme is waning.

Figures taken from consecutive IOC financial reports indicate that TOP generated some $2.18 billion (£1.58 billion/€1.84 billion) of revenue over the four years from 2017 to 2020.

This is not all cash - it seems possible, moreover, that the IOC may need to reimburse sponsors in light of all the COVID-related disruption to Tokyo 2020, even if this might take the form of the gifting of additional marketing opportunities or rights, as opposed to any cash repayment.

Nevertheless, given that TOP only exceeded $1 billion (£726 million/€846 million) in revenues raised in the 2013-2016 cycle culminating with Rio 2016, recent progress has been impressive.

IOC President Thomas Bach is, furthermore, on record as saying that TOP is set to raise around $3 billion (£2.18 billion/€2.5 billion) in the 2021 to 2024 quadrennium.

IOC President Thomas Bach has said that TOP sponsors are set to raise $3 billion in the 2021 to 2024 quadrennium, despite Dow and GE not appearing on the roster for Paris 2024 ©Getty Images
IOC President Thomas Bach has said that TOP sponsors are set to raise $3 billion in the 2021 to 2024 quadrennium, despite Dow and GE not appearing on the roster for Paris 2024 ©Getty Images

With the media landscape so unpredictable, sponsorship has never been more important to the Olympic Movement than it is at present.

I was sorry to read of the recent death of Bach’s predecessor as IOC President Jacques Rogge.

The IOC Session at which the Belgian was elected in Moscow in 2001 was the first I attended.

While one of his rivals for the post, Canada’s Richard Pound, would probably have provided more imaginative leadership, the straight bat that Rogge unfailingly deployed was exactly what the Movement needed to safeguard credibility in the wake of the Salt Lake City scandal.

Within two years, confidence in the Olympic brand had been restored to the point where the Summer Games became, more than ever, the must-have bauble for any city with serious pretensions to world-class status.

The 2012 bid race, which saw London (the winners), Paris, New York City, Moscow and Madrid, fighting tooth and nail for the big prize will in all probability never be repeated or equalled.

Helped by an era of generally improving Sino-US relations, Rogge also proved adept at managing the potentially delicate issue of the IOC’s decision, also in 2001, to award its flagship asset to China.

In the event, Beijing 2008 proved a noteworthy success, with a tentative consensus forming that the IOC had got its timing more or less right.

In retrospect, the orthopaedic surgeon and three-time Olympic sailor, might have done well to call time on his Presidency after a single term, in 2009.

Our columnist attended the Bridges to Babylon concert at the Stade de France in July 1998 ©David Owen
Our columnist attended the Bridges to Babylon concert at the Stade de France in July 1998 ©David Owen

Had he done so, he would have left with the Movement at a historic high, vacating the chair for a more energetic and flexible colleague to attempt to plot safe passage through the financial storms that had by then started to buffet western economies while also endeavouring to exploit new opportunities which the tech revolution was opening up.

For this reason, he will not go down as one of the really great IOC Presidents - but he was the safest of safe pairs of hands when such qualities were desperately needed.

I also wanted to mark the passing of another international figure - Charlie Watts, the cricket-loving Rolling Stones drummer - as it allows me to write about what is by a country mile the most rock ‘n’ roll thing I have ever done.

It was 25 July 1998 and, having attended the Bridges to Babylon concert in the then brand new Stade de France, where Zinédine Zidane and team-mates had lifted the World Cup just two weeks earlier, we had the great good fortune (thank you, Philip) to receive invitations to the after-party at Paris’s luxury Plaza Athénée hotel.

It was singer Mick Jagger’s 55th birthday - Johnny Depp was there and the Muddy Waters Band was on hand to perform to an audience perhaps 1/400th the size of the 80,000 who had packed the great stadium.

The Stones frontman was duly present and correct, while we were astonished when, having belted out their two-and-a-half-hour set earlier, Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood hopped up onstage to supplement the Muddy Waters contingent for a number or two.

But what about Charlie? I do recall catching a brief glimpse of him far away on the other side of one of the grand rooms, but I have the firm impression that his visit to the festivities was fleeting.

I discovered subsequently that Watts claimed to have sketched every bedroom he had slept in on tour since the late 1960s.

Is there a moral to this story? Only that great teams, or in this case musical ensembles, often comprise very disparate individuals.