By Len Monheit
Let’s start by considering the fact that the Turin Olympics will have major coverage with 200 countries broadcasting, compared to 160 countries in 2002. The expected audience is more than 3 billion people, up 5 percent from Salt Lake City. NBC has planned 416 hours of coverage and the US audience is expected to be up 12 percent over the 2002 games held on US home soil.
It’s no small wonder that some companies want the visibility of sponsorship and endorsement on this massive stage. As an industry, the potential for us to both be a driver of measures that support activities that reduce the risk to athletes (contamination as well as safety) and gain visibility at the same time is huge. As an industry, we have not yet reached the stage where this is possible. As an industry, we don’t see this as a problem, let alone as ‘our’ problem. (Just as we don’t consider companies selling steroids to be our problem and just as we don’t consider companies selling other adulterated products to be our problem.)
Is this an accountability issue or just a massive failure to see the big picture? Perhaps both.
Even as we consider the potential opportunity noted above, let’s consider the risk factor for Turin specifically, which, some would argue is huge. What happens if a supplement is blamed for a positive doping infraction?
It is quite possible that we can anticipate several doping infractions during the games and can only hope that none of them involve the use of supplements, or even allege to involve supplements – the impact would be significant. Not only would it be a (another) serious credibility blow, it would also be an obstacle to the continuing and expanded dialogue between industry and the ADO’s (Anti-Doping Organization’s) and sports communities to effectively deal with this problem through the exchange of ideas, solutions, information and education. While this is an issue that a few companies and organizations are actively working on, it truly needs broader support and attention.
Consider the 3 billion people watching the games and those watching sports events on an ongoing basis.
What do we really want them to think about our industry? What message do we want to tell them?
Some might say that it’s really only sports products that are the problem. Some might say that the athletes are using an all-too-convenient scapegoat. Others will argue that the issue is deliberate contamination and not a broad industry issue. Still others will ask (rightly) “why should good, responsible companies pay more to be able to send the right message, when the irresponsible minority is likely the source of the problem?”
It has been stated and proven, time and again, that a good part of the audience hears ‘supplements’, not sports supplements, that the media is quite quick to cast a cloud over all supplements and natural health products, that some groups fan the flame to a receptive audience by noting irregularities in product quality and in some cases, the regulatory agencies are not that friendly to industry. With this in mind, how can we really say, it’s not our problem?
For companies dealing with sports nutrition products as well as in the broader industry, if we give this issue the attention its potential impact deserves, there’s an opportunity for us to take a measure of control over the messaging reaching potentially 3 billion plus people. (Although not overnight) I, for one, think we shouldn’t waste the chance.