“Nike is enlisting the services of a repressive regime to crush its enemies” charges the Guardian’s Marina Hyde, and while I’d otherwise be worried for the welfare of Sonny Vacarro, Hyde explains this is all about the sneaker giant quashing a particularly nasty rumor.
While several home spectators were still weeping outside the Bird’s Nest Stadium after Liu Xang was forced to pull out of the 110m hurdles, newspapers were going to press running a full-page Nike advert. A sombre, unsmiling image of Liu’s face, it was overlaid with the words: “Love competition. Love risking your pride. Love winning it back. Love giving it everything you’ve got. Love the glory. Love the pain. Love sport even when it breaks your heart.” In the succeeding days we would learn even more about how one insanely pressurised athlete’s misery would be co-opted to bolster Nike’s brand. “We are about sticking by athletes through thick and thin,” declared the sportswear giant’s brand president, Charlie Denson, “through injury and poor performances. That is why sports are such an exciting field – there are no guarantees. There is heartbreak and failure as well as excitement and triumph.”
There’s really nothing like a marketing executive explaining to ordinary folks why sport is exciting, ladling on all those abstract nouns which one often feels have been copyrighted by Nike. And if only they’d left it there, they might just have got away with it. But it turns out Nike are also “about” far less appealing things than triumph and hope and Redeem Teams.
On Tuesday, it was discovered that an anonymous internet user, claiming to be close to Nike, had written a web post in which they suggested Nike had forced Liu to pull out because he wasn’t going to win, and that would compromise the firm’s investment in him. Your basic internet conspiracy, but the corporation’s response was as swift as it was staggering. They announced: “We have immediately asked relevant government departments to investigate those that started the rumour.” Relevant government departments? But how enchanting to find Nike speaking like the foreign office of an independent republic, almost as if the sportswear firm has an extradition treaty with the Chinese government. It hasn’t, of course, so the rather more salient question is whether Nike has any qualms about getting the famously gossamer-touched Chinese government to leave no stone unturned in the hunt for – and let’s keep stressing it – an anonymous internet poster.