Zhang Chong: China’s Olympics sponsors back four China team members

Image copyright Reuters Image caption China’s Olympic gymnastics team has been shamed in the media over its treatment of Peng

New sponsors are facing a backlash after the IOC left China’s Olympic gymnastics team to defend themselves for a case of bullying.

Peng Shuai had declined an invitation to the Games in Rio.

However, her attitude has now angered at least three sponsors.

“I think [the controversy] is not good for China’s image,” said Kevin Keenan, vice-president of global accounts at Swiss luxury watch brand Hublot.

“I think it makes a reflection on the behaviour of China as a society.”

The two other sponsors to complain were HNA Travel Group, which covers the Americas, and Marriott, which owns the hotels in Rio.

In addition, China’s gymnastics team made three of the eight Olympic medals for women in Rio, where it won two golds and a bronze.

Before the case became public, the IOC announced that the country had won 30 medals from 21 sporting disciplines in the Rio Games, leaving it in third place behind the US and Britain.

Huang Yiping, the head of the gymnastics team, said she had been “pleased” to meet the three Chinese sponsors, Marriott, HNA and Hublot, at a coffee shop in Rio de Janeiro earlier this month.

“We’ll have meetings with all companies in the future,” she said.

But at least one sponsor wants the IOC to take the lead on the issue.

“If the media question about China, I think we should solve this problem in a more responsible manner,” Andrew Ludwig, who is from the SVA visual communications department, told the New York Times.

Wang Qiuyu, who is vice president of Leshan Iron and Steel, China’s largest steelmaker, added: “I don’t understand how this incident can be resolved in 20 minutes.”

Reuters news agency reported the controversy after its Beijing-based reporter reported that London’s Own the Podium campaign had criticised China for refusing to present Peng at the opening ceremony.

Leshan, which is also sponsoring the Great Britain rugby sevens team, did not respond to requests for comment.

Huang told BBC Sport she would not be attending the ceremony, along with the other team members, because she was not 100% fit.

Peng, who helped China win silver in the team all-around final, disagreed, claiming that she felt “shame” for being removed from the group and being told not to present herself.

The sportswear manufacturer Adidas, which sponsored the Olympic Dreams campaign to encourage young people to follow their dreams, has not commented.

Olympic historian David Wallechinsky told the BBC that the investigation by the IOC about bullying by members of China’s gymnastics team was possibly the biggest such case for over a century.

He also claimed that the incident was a massive embarrassment for the brand who wanted to invest in China, since the story would have travelled around the world.

“It’s a big problem. The IOC want China to appear to be clean and good in its image abroad, and to act as a role model for the world,” he said.

“The power goes to the IOC because sponsors need to be confident that all that they pay for is providing a safe environment for their customers.”

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