Top Olympics officials questioned whether it was appropriate to allow fast-food chain McDonald’s to continue sponsoring the games amid mounting concern about the global obesity crisis, the International Olympic Committee president has admitted.
Jacques Rogge said in an interview with the Financial Times that the growing financial demands of the Olympics were making it harder for the movement to hold on to its long-cherished values, which include taking care of one’s health. It has faced increasing criticism from health groups for linking the games to high-calorie consumer brands.
McDonald’s, whose four restaurants in London’s Olympic Park include its biggest in the world, which can seat 1,500 customers, extended its 36-year backing of the games in January by signing up as sponsor for another eight years.
But Mr Rogge said there had been a “question mark” over the sponsorship of the Olympics by McDonald’s and Coca-Cola, a sponsor of the games since 1928 and also signed up until 2020.
“For those companies, we’ve said to them: ‘Listen, there is an issue in terms of the growing trend on obesity, what are you going to do about that?’?” he said.
The IOC derives much of its income from broadcasting rights, receiving $3.9 billion in the four years up to and including the London Olympics. But in that period, it has also received $957 million from its 11 global sponsors.
It gives more than 90 percent of those revenues to national Olympic committees, international federations and host city organisers.
Deciding to renew McDonald’s sponsorship deal “was not an easy decision”, he said. “But then we decided to go and to have the benefit of their support at grassroots levels.”
Mr Rogge pointed to the introduction by McDonald’s of healthier menu options and Coca-Cola’s zero-calorie drinks as evidence of the companies’ taking their public health responsibilities seriously.
Mr Rogge, who included concerns about obesity in his campaign for re-election as IOC president four years ago, said the financial support of sponsors ensured the survival of Olympic sports and national Olympic teams.
“The bottom line is that we have to support and to alleviate the needs of . . . our national Olympic committees [and] international federations. Most international federations are on a lifeline for the Olympic Games and they need the financial support . . . Otherwise they would be in trouble.”