There can rarely have been a more acclaimed venue for the Olympics
than Sydney. There can scarcely be a more controversial one than
The International Olympic Committee's decision last Friday to grant
Beijing the 2008 Games raised eyebrows, given China's human rights
record. But as the battle for the Olympics hotted up in recent weeks,
China's PR dynamism also surprised observers.
Not known for slick media-friendliness, at the start of 2001 the Chinese
government appeared to be headed for a PR wooden spoon in the race to
hold the world's greatest sporting event.
The Guardian sports correspondent Vivek Chaudhary recalls being baffled
by his dealings with the Beijing backers: 'We couldn't find out who to
contact. Getting information was near impossible.'
Beijing's bid committee suddenly changed tack and made the (for them)
unprecedented decision to bring on board Bell Pottinger's sports arm,
e.sp (PRWeek, 23 March 2001), and Weber Shandwick Worldwide to help
Chaudhary says that lines of communication cleared - and, while human
rights issues did not disappear overnight, questions on all issues were
efficiently handled. He believes e.sp's press trips to China were
particularly useful in helping persuade the media to look at the country
Crucially for Beijing, coverage no longer focused exclusively on human
rights, and the argument that an Olympics would lead to improvements
e.sp MD Jon Tibbs said it was still too early to say how far the agency
had succeeded in its brief to help balance coverage, but he said
negotiations to represent Beijing's Olympic organising committee - once
it is up and running this autumn - were at an advanced stage.
Tibbs also says that predictions of a fractious relationship with WSW
have proved unfounded: 'They came with the power of their Washington
lobbying arm - very recently the Bush administration came out with a
neutral stance on the bid. We brought in-depth knowledge of the Olympic
However, Susan Kobrin, head of press at human rights group Amnesty
International, believes the PR battle is only just heating up: 'The IOC
and the sponsors - corporations such as General Motors and McDonald's -
won't want to be associated with human rights abuses, so there will be
pressure on China to improve,' she says.