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‘Awkward time’ for corporations

Feb 20,2018
The Olympics have long been the stage for not only top athletes but also corporations. The 1995 Summer Games in Atlanta was called the “Coca-Cola Olympics” as its logo was as omnipresent as the Olympics symbol. But Korea Inc. is distinctively low-key at Pyeongchang. The ongoing crackdown on corruption in top family-run chaebols has made it an “especially awkward time” for the country’s leading corporate names like Samsung to be plastering Olympic venues with their logos, according to a New York Times article.

The PyeongChang Olympics had hoped to generate as much as 21 trillion won ($20 billion) in corporate and consumer spending and 44 trillion won indirectly through promoting corporate brand value.

But companies are taking pains to keep themselves out of sight even after having had chipped in more than 1 trillion won to bring home the first Winter Olympics amid the ongoing chaebol reform. Although it is the leading sponsor of the Olympics, Samsung Electronics is not so eager at the Olympics while political and public criticism about the second court ruling that freed the heir Lee Jae-yong who had been jailed remains high.

Deliberating the same bribery case connected to the ousted President Park Geun-hye, the lower court delivered a jail term to Lotte Group chairman Shin Dong-bin and placed him immediately behind bars. Shin has chaired the local ski association since 2014 and was expected to encourage athletes throughout the Olympics. KT chairman Hwang Chang-gyu had his home and office raided while he was opening the promotion center for the company’s 5G technology. The clampdown on big corporate names has dampened corporate spirit in the Olympics.

Foreign names are instead benefiting from the absence of local peers. Intel stole the spotlight of the opening games with its fleet of 1218 drones and Jack Ma, executive chairman of Alibaba, drew media attention for artificial intelligence technology through a showy promotion center in Pyeongchang. While there is still some time left, the morale of the Korea Inc. must be revived to display their skills and potential through hard-won Olympics momentum on their home turf.

JoongAng Ilbo, Feb. 19, Page 30