During my 23-plus years at Burson-Marsteller, I played roles on Olympic PR programs and the Asian Games, lectured at an International Olympic Committee (IOC) sports press seminar, managed the US Olympic Committee account, and traveled worldwide as an advisor to ranking Korean and Australian Olympic and government officials.
For eight years, I also managed Gillette's All-Star Game fan election, when Gillette was sole sponsor of balloting for baseball's midsummer classic.
Before and during my Burson stint, the IOC promoted itself as an organization devoted to achieving understanding and peace through sports. It still does.
There's no doubt the Olympics are the most significant of sporting events. It brings together competitors and countries regardless of religious or political beliefs. The IOC is also involved in laudable social activities. But does the IOC deserve credit for bettering relationships among nations? Are there any other sporting organizations that do a better job at achieving the goal that the IOC envisions as an important part of its mission?
Because the Winter Games were in progress, the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics will be in nearby China, and Cleveland Indians pitcher Danny Graves visited Vietnam to introduce baseball to children, I decided to use "sport talk" as an opening to converse with the locals on a recent trip to Vietnam. I asked them if they thought of sports as a vehicle to promote better understanding.
Not many Vietnamese thought sports bring people and nations together. Between the Winter and Summer Olympics and the Asian Games, only the latter was perceived as bettering relations.
Unfortunately, the Graves visit wasn't well known. Graves, the first major leaguer born in Vietnam, was there as co-host of a Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund (VVMF) delegation in January. The fund provides humanitarian services for Vietnamese. Graves went along to introduce baseball as part of the group's effort to foster healing and understanding between the US and Vietnam.
In all my years of working on Olympic programs, including sponsorships, as well as candidate-city and organizing committees, reporters were most interested in speaking to athletes or discussing the costs of staging and marketing of the Games. No reporter asked about the Olympics as a roadmap to a better world.
If not the Olympics, does any sport deserve consideration as the front-runner in bettering understanding among people? Consider Major League Baseball (MLB).
Its World Baseball Classic was held without the protest often associated with the Olympic Games. Many major leaguers from Latin America, Japan, and South Korea have been warmly received in the US. (Many Americans have played in Japan and become popular there, too.) The MLB also endorsed the VVMF effort.
So, in my opinion, the IOC has to take a back seat to baseball in promoting goodwill, even though that might not be one of baseball's primary objectives.
Who knows? Perhaps someday the Nobel Peace Prize will go to a Cy Young or MVP winner.
Arthur Solomon is a PR consultant in Scarsdale, NY.