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Sunday, July 14, 2024 - 03:28 PM


First Published in 1994


The closing ceremonies of the 2022 Beijing Olympics couldn't come soon enough for NBC, who just broadcasted the biggest Games flop of the modern age. With ratings in the basement and its credibility in tatters, no one is quite sure what the network got for its $7.75 billion dollar investment -- except very expensive heartburn. When the curtain finally came down on the disaster that was the Winter Games, there were winners, to be sure. But there were, for the first time, many more losers -- and the sporting world that allowed China to host was the biggest.

In many ways, Eileen Gu -- the American ski star who competed for China -- summed up the whole Olympics. The rising Stanford freshman, who shrugged off the regime's humanitarian atrocities, was the perfect face for a Beijing Games that never should have happened. Pressed about her decision to abandon the U.S. team and compete for genocidal communists, Gu said indifferently that she is "not trying to solve political problems right now."

HBO's Bill Maher, like a lot of Americans hoisting the red, white, and blue, was beside himself. "She chose to represent a totalitarian police state over America," he ranted on "Real Time." Former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley, who probably doesn't find herself on Maher's side often, was just as incensed. Choose, she demanded. "In terms of citizenship, look -- China or the U.S.? You have got to pick a side. Period.... [Y]ou're either American or you're Chinese, and they are two very different countries... Every athlete needs to know when they put their flag on, you're standing for freedom or you're standing for human rights abuses. There is no in-between."

It was a message that could -- and should -- have resonated with every U.S. entity: NBC, Hollywood, America's Olympic sponsors, Big Business, and Big Tech. Long before the Beijing torch was lit, they -- like Gu -- were all on Team China. And if they think, after this catastrophe of a Games, that it endeared them to anyone, they're wrong.

For NBC, who gambled on a long-term deal with the Olympics, the damage to their brand was severe. Sports analysts called it "bleak," a "low-water mark." "I thought that the Olympics in China -- with all of these issues surrounding it -- would have meant record viewership on NBC," expert Gordon Chang said. "But that obviously was not the case. There was a record, but it was record low. So I'm really surprised about that. You know, it's one of those things where to borrow a word from another religion. I actually do believe there's karma in the world, and NBC suffered it."

The network, who devoted only a handful of minutes to China's Uyghur torture network, might have won the PR battle if it used its platform to draw attention to the abuses of the communist party. They didn't. And ironically, that silence only made the outside voices louder. The international outcry -- in TV and sponsor boycotts -- helped net the lowest number of viewers (11.4 million in primetime) since NBC took over the broadcast in 1988, a 47 percent drop from the 2018 Games in South Korea.

For U.S. sponsors Coca-Cola, Airbnb, Intel, Visa, and Proctor & Gamble, who desperately downplayed their involvement at home, consumer sentiment has been chilly. "[These companies] sent two messages," Chang argued -- one heavily promoting their investment in Beijing while turning around and taking a nothing-to-see-here attitude at home. "And I think that's a real indication that these companies knew that what they were doing was wrong, that what they were doing was complicit in these crimes against humanity. They did not want to highlight their role as backing the Olympics and therefore backing China and therefore backing what China has been doing against Uyghurs, Tibetans, and other minorities."

And while America's CEOs might want to keep the lid on their Beijing investments, that will be tough to do now that Chinese state media is heralding the shopping boom hitting the manufacturers involved in the Olympics. Snowboard companies, clothes retailers, even ski pole and snowshoe makers, are experiencing a "windfall in sales," the Global Times declares. And thanks to athletes like Gu, who thrilled fashion elites when she pulled off her gloves to reveal Tiffany & Co. rings, U.S. brands are also inextricably tied to the stain of these Games.

Every one of them, Chang argues, is now vulnerable. "Because what they've done is they've mortgaged their future and put it into the hands of a regime... that has already done things, of course, that Americans abhor. And that means that NBA, Hollywood, Wal-Mart, all of these big institutions and companies have now been identified and have placed their future in the hands of people they can't control. People who are monsters."

Now that those realities are front and center in the U.S., China's enablers are in trouble. Yes, the Olympics might have helped the regime's image internally, but it also gave critics a global platform to talk about their atrocities -- and the United States' corporate involvement. Anyone who doesn't want to see innocent people persecuted for their religious beliefs knows that they can take a stand simply by refusing to buy products from China and the American companies like Nike, Apple, Coca-Cola, and others excusing their supply-chain slave labor.

We may not be able to take on communist China, Chang agreed, but "with our everyday purchasing decisions, we can strike a blow for freedom and democracy and... for all the things that we believe in. We can also make that decision with our investments, not investing in China, telling our investment managers, 'No, don't put our money in stocks X, Y, and Z. We can do a number of small things each of us. You know, there's just so many of us. There's more of us than them, and collectively we do wield great power." If Beijing 2022 showed us anything, it's time to use it. Not just for our sake -- but for theirs.