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It was widely reported on Monday that Jacques Rogge, president of the International Olympic Committee, said there had been a “question mark” hanging over Coca-Cola’s (KO) and McDonald’s (MCD) sponsorship of this year’s London Olympic games. By Tuesday, Rogge had changed his tune, saying he’s “proud to be associated with them.”
Both McDonald’s and Coca-Cola are longtime sponsors of the Olympics — and two of the biggest. The question mark surrounding McDonald’s and Coke’s sponsorships was one of growing concerns about obesity, and the two companies’ likely contribution to it. In an interview with Financial Times, Rogge said: “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?'”
In the end, Rogge said, McDonald’s new, healthier menu and Coke’s no-calorie drinks convinced him the companies were trying to clean up their acts. But what other conclusion could he come to?
It costs a lot of money to run a modern Olympiad. There’s a lot of brand prestige at stake for the companies, as well as for brand United Kingdom. Britain, like every country that hosts the Olympics, is counting on a summer of good press for the country. Why on Earth would you spend what Parliament estimates will be around 11 billion pounds, or roughly $17 billion, of taxpayer money otherwise?
Still, the decision to keep them on as sponsors, Rogge told the Times, “was not an easy one.” It was a necessary one, however, something Rogge knew from a lifetime of experience with the Olympics.
You May Be Tough, But Are You Belgian Tough?
Rogge has been called “Mr. Clean” for his obsessive efforts to remove doping from the Olympics. So his calling out of McDonald’s and Coke as potentially the wrong kinds of sponsors for the world’s oldest and most prestigious athletics contest was in character, if ill-timed.
From 1989 to 1992, Rogge, a Belgian, served as president of the Belgian National Olympic Committee. Before that he was head of mission for five Olympic games. He was elected president of the IOC in 2001.
Aside from the rough and tumble of world-class sports bureaucracy, Rogge is also no stranger to physical competition. He was a yachting competitor in three Olympics and was also a member of the Belgian national rugby team, neither of which are sports for the weak of heart. And Rogge was an orthopedic surgeon, so when he moralizes on health he knows of what he speaks. He loves athletics, and said in a recent interview: “I’ve always been passionate about sport and I believe in its healing power.”
At 70 years old, he knows the way things work.
Going Out With a Bang, and Some Purpose
This is Rogge’s last Olympics. His presidency ends in 2013. If he was looking to go out with some Olympic-caliber fireworks of his own, he succeeded.
He also gave the next president of the IOC something of value to think about. He told Financial Times that “the growing financial demands of the Olympics were making it harder for the movement to hold onto its long-cherished values, which include taking care of one’s health.”
The summer games are about to start, and the decision to keep McDonald’s and Coke as sponsors was undoubtedly made a long time ago. But by calling out McDonald’s and Coke on their dubious sponsorship of the Olympics, Rogge was only acknowledging the elephant in the room — an overweight, bossy one, eating a Big Mac and drinking an extra-large soda.
John Grgurich is a regular contributor to The Motley Fool, and owns no positions in either McDonald’s or Coca-Cola. The Motley Fool owns shares of Coca-Cola and McDonald’s. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Coca-Cola and McDonald’s.
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