• Transform magazine
  • July 16, 2018

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Russian brand banned from PyeongChang Olympics

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The Olympic flag is internationally recognisable. It stands for clear values and it represents millions of athletes. But occasionally, it represents individuals as well. And in that case, it takes the place of the national flag of any sovereign state. Such an instance occurred in the previous Olympic Games in Rio when refugees and independent athletes – largely from Kuwait – competed in Brazil, but did so without any branded ties to their nation of origin.

In 21 days, the Winter Olympics will kick off in PyeongChang with the lighting of the torch and the parade of nations. That parade will, for the first time since 1994 – when it began competing as the Russian Federation – be devoid of the Russian tricolour.

The ninth-winningest nation in the Winter Olympics’ all-time medal count, Russia sends a consistently strong delegation to both the Summer and Winter Games. But, its PyeongChang delegation will be banned from using any Russian national icons or branding on their apparel, flag or insignia during the South Korean Olympics. The decision was made by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) as a way to allow Russian athletes with proven histories of clean drug tests to participate in a Games in which Russia has been banned.

Competing under an athlete’s national flag is a point of pride for Olympians. However, this year’s Russian delegation will instead be designated ‘Olympic Athletes from Russia.’ Their apparel can bear at most two colours, to avoid associations with the tricolour Russian banner. They must display a round, red-on-white badge proclaiming they are ‘Olympic Athletes from Russia’ and any writing on their apparel must be in an English typeface. The Olympic anthem will be played in place of Russia’s in medals ceremonies.

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Team Russia's exclusive Olympic outfitter – Bosco – has asked for its logo to be removed from any Olympic kit in light of the new brand guidelines. Bosco’s chairman told Russian news organisation TASS that the brand will instead cover the Bosco logo on Olympic kit with the IOC logo. Accessories like scarves and gloves will be produced without the Bosco logo.

However, as a brand, the effective white-labelling of its Olympic presence may impact a Russia which held the last Winter Olympics in Sochi in 2014. Russian governmental officials including the minister of sport, Vitaly Mutko, have received lifetime bans from any future Olympic Games

The development of a nation brand relies on such elements as international sporting participation, tourism, global investment and other factors. The Olympics can play a strong role, particularly for host countries. The London Olympics promoted the UK’s nation brand strongly to the international audience, as has the World Cup in South Africa and other international events.

“It’s hugely important, because the whole country is in the spotlight,” says Andy Payne, global chief creative officer at Interbrand, which worked on the Sochi and PyeongChang brand’s. “Not only is your country is in the limelight, your future is also in the limelight. Where you are going as a country, what your purpose is, what your vision is, how you’re modernising. All these things start to come to the fore. Many countries, when they register interest in hosting a games, they will see it as a catalyst for many other circles of growth. In Korea for instance, we worked with the Korean tourist industry two or three years before the actual bid was approved. It’s part of an overall strategy about building nations, building country, building culture into destination, and countries as destinations, and capitals as destinations. I think it’s hugely important, it’s a huge growth engine.”

Indeed the Sochi Games was intended to improve the image of Russia’s nation brand. University of the District of Columbia marketing professor Nikolai Ostapenko writes in the Journal of Management Policy and Practice, the Olympics was meant to inspire a “huge international comeback opportunity to present a stronger, better, more glamorous image both politically and economically.” He said of the Sochi Olympics, “An opportunity to change the nation’s image is desired from within and expected from without. This historical opportunity must not be missed again. This is a propitious moment for Russia to resume country’s pursuit of international fame, glory, and appreciation.”

But, for Russia, which hosted the Sochi Games, the legacy of that Games is not a boosted national image and stronger tourism to the Black Sea region, but the black mark of doping. The PyeongChang censure has come in response to concerns over continued doping programmes within the Russian team. IOC president Thomas Bach called the doping scandal, “an unprecedented attack on the integrity of the Olympic Games and sport. This should draw a line under this damaging episode and serve as a catalyst for a more effective anti-doping system.” The IOC has also issued 43 lifetime bans to Russian Olympic athletes for doping during the Sochi Games.

Photo credit: IOC

For further insight on the relationship between the Olympics and nation brands and reputation, click here.

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