One canceled golf tournament might not, at first glance, seem like a huge deal, but a worrying trend of overreaching has dogged Alisports since its inception – and the cracks are starting to show.
Imagine it’s October 2016 and you’re the LPGA. You’ve just signed a ten-year deal with Alisports, giving them ownership rights of your most important tournament in China. All the usual cliches spring to mind – growing the game, millions of new fans, next generation of golfers etc – and you’re feeling pretty pleased with yourselves. It’s Alibaba – they’re one of the biggest companies in China, they know China, Jack Ma is basically Steve Jobs, they’ve got trillions of users etc. What could go possibly wrong?
Money is often thought of as synonymous with power and influence – in sports as elsewhere – but it’s not often we see such a clear example of a sponsor brazenly attempting to assert their influence as we’ve seen recently in China.
Alisports, the sports wing of Chinese ecommerce giant Alibaba, last year announced a $150 million investment into eSports through a partnership with the International eSports Federation (IeSF). That was followed up by a 10-year deal to promote the Chinese city of Changzhou as an eSports hub, with the city set to host a number of World Electronic Sports Games (WESG) events, offering total prize money of $5.5 million, while another Chinese city, Suzhou, was also designated by Alisports as a major international sports city, with eSports also a central part of that aim.
China’s largest ever Olympic contingent of 411 athletes has brought expectations for a sizeable medal haul to Brazil. But with with local issues compounded by some wider – and more worrying – trends, it is no exaggeration to say that the Rio Olympics are facing potentially fatal headwinds.
The Rio Olympics are shaping up to be the most pivotal of recent times.
Not because the sporting action is any more anticipated than at previous Games – far from it – but because the Olympic concept has taken so many knocks in recent years that the very credibility of the Games is under threat.
When it comes to the 2022 Olympic Games, FIFA – not the IOC – is holding the joker in the pack. And that Joker is far closer to Heath Ledger’s dark portrayal of the character than anything that faintly resembles amusement.
Paralympic action starts today in Sochi with China’s 10-strong contingent looking to claim the country’s first ever Winter Paralympic medal. Five of the 10 form the curling team, which finished third at the World Championships in both 2012 and 2013, so a medal is a definite possibility. The other five are cross-country skiers: no red hot favorites, but results have been improving and a podium finish is not out of the question.
With several high prominent western leaders boycotting the Sochi Olympics, it was of even more importance to Russia and the IOC that Chinese President Xi Jinping attended the opening ceremony. In an official press release about the first ever IOC President’s dinner, Xi was mentioned in the same breath as Russian President Vladimir Putin, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Karolos Papoulias, President of Greece (home of the Olympics). All other attendees were listed further down the release, showing the importance of Xi’s presence.