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Why Coca-Cola should pull out of the Olympics

Yesterday, I posted a link on my Facebook profile to sign this petition¬†in a bid for Coca-Cola to pull their sponsorship from the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics in Russia due to their anti-gay laws. I received a genuine argument against this action, where I was asked why should Coke be involved at all when it should be our government’s job to make our opinions known, and all Coke does is sell and unhealthy caffeinated drink. I appreciated the argument. I believe everything should always be questioned to make sure people have the answers. So here’s why I still believe Coca-Cola should pull their sponsorship.

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Firstly, why should Coca-Cola be involved at all? This is a government issue and should be dealt with in this way. Companies should not have to pull sponsorship to make a difference. I agree with this completely. However, I also agree that 10% of the world’s population shouldn’t have 85% of the wealth. I agree that governments should stick to promises they make. I agree with a lot of nice sentiments but I’m also aware that this is not realistic. We live in a capitalist world. Big corporations like Coca-Cola have massive amounts of money, and therefore power. In certain situations, corporations have more power than governments, they can get things done faster, they can have a bigger and more immediate effect that will make people stand up and take notice. Not only do I accept this, but I encourage it. Whether we like it or not, companies like Coca-Cola have power, so instead of giving out about it we should try to use it for the better.

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Riots broke out in St. Petersburg as gay rights supporters clashed with anti-gay nationalists on June 29th. Photo by Valya Egorshin.

Secondly, why should a company that built its wealth through feeding the world an unhealthy, sugar-filled, caffeinated drink be allowed to gain any brownie points by ‘taking a stand’ in a roundabout way? Because once again, it’s not about what should be done, it’s what can be done. Whether or not Coca-Cola deserve to do anything for the global population when it’s so unhealthy is not the argument here. Fizzy drinks are unhealthy, we get it. But is this really big picture stuff when it comes to Coca-Cola taking a stand against brutal anti-gay laws by pulling sponsorship? Again, it comes down to money. You may not like how they got it, but if global companies have money (and power) and can use it for the greater good, why oppose that?

Thirdly, what about Coca-Cola’s very comprehensive defence to continue sponsoring the Olympics? They raise some good points, the Olympics brings people together through sport and it’s the event it’s sponsoring, not the country or its homophobic law. You can read the full statement, issued August 28th, 2013 here. But I think this is a ‘desperate times, desperate measures’ scenario. To clarify, I do not agree with people boycotting the Olympics, particularly¬†LGBT athletes. To each their own but I don’t think that is the answer. While I don’t fully agree with this article, I agree with the notion that a small boycott won’t make a difference; the show must and will go on.

“In 1968, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar refused to play in the Olympics as a protest against the treatment of blacks in America. The same year, Tommie Smith and John Carlos stood on a medal stand, gloved fists in the air, as a protest against the treatment of blacks in America. History remembers the athletes who showed up.” – Patrick Burke, Buzzfeed

A boycott won’t stop the world from bankrolling Russia during the Olympics. Maybe Coca-Cola pulling their sponsorship won’t either. But it’s a start, and a powerful one at that. It would be a big move; they’ve sponsored the Olympics since 1928. More than likely their action will be to speak out against the anti-gay laws rather than pull their sponsorship. But if they were to go, others would probably follow suit and while I don’t believe Russia can be morally shamed into changing its law, I do believe they can be financially scared into changing.

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Wicklow musician Hozier published the video for his track, Take Me To Church. He said it “references the recent increase of organised attacks and torturing of homosexuals in Russia, which is subsequent to a long, hateful, and oppressive political campaign against the LGBT community”. Both the video and song are incredibly haunting and powerful.

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