You can contact Coca-Cola via its US Web site about a number of topics. But don’t dare ask it anything “gay,” or Coke will give you a virtual slap on the wrist.
That’s what happened to me moments ago when I asked Coke’s “virtual agent” about gay rights in Russia.
Coke, as you may know, is an official sponsor of the 2014 Winter Olympics taking place in two weeks in Sochi, Russia. And Russia is in the midst of a draconian crackdown on its gay and trans citizens, among other dissidents.
I asked Coke’s virtual agent the following: “Gay rights are being oppressed in Russia, what is Coke doing to speak out?”
I got the following answer:
“That’s not very classy. Let’s have a polite conversation.”
So I tried again:
And then simply tried the words “gay” and “lesbian,” assuming they were the trigger.
“Lesbian” appeared to particularly upset Coke’s virtual assistant:
I’m sure Coca-Cola would like nothing better than to pretend that its gay problem didn’t exist. But it does. The news that Coke’s American Web site gets rankled over discussions involving the word’s “gay” and “lesbian” comes on the heels of our earlier scoop that a Coke social media campaign based in South Africa bans the word “gay” but not straight.
And that followed our earlier report that Olympics security personnel were sporting a Coca-Cola logo when they detained a gay rights protester waving a rainbow flag less than two weeks ago in Russia. The protester was turned over to Russian police, who then took him in to ask him more questions about his gay flag.
To make matters worse, Coke then defended the arrest of the Russian dissident.
Coke is not the only Olympic sponsor feeling the wrath of the international gay community for giving Putin’s regime. McDonald’s and Visa have also come under withering criticism for their sponsorship of the Sochi Olympics as well. And it’s not just gays they have to content with. Ireland’s Trinity College recently banned Coke and P&G products due to the companies’ refusal to speak out against Russia’s virulently homophobic new “gay propaganda” law.
And lest anyone ask why an Olympic sponsor needs to speak out about human rights abuses in the host country, all you need do is follow the money. Coke spent $70 million to be a lead sponsor of the Beijing Olympics in 2008, so one would expect a similar sum for Sochi. And that’s not the only way that corporations spend money on the Olympics. Yahoo Finance walks you through the various ways. By some estimates, 40% of Olympic revenue comes from sponsorships.
Speaking of percentages, here’s another interesting figure: 25% to 50%+ of the over $50 billion spenton the Sochi Olympics was stolen. From the Christian Science Monitor:
A Swiss member of the International Olympic Committee has publicly conceded an embarrassing reality that most Russians have long known about: the looming Sochi Olympics have been a virtual potlatch of corruption, with about a third of the $55 billion in mostly-state expenditures siphoned off in bribes and kickbacks by greedy officials.
Others have suggested that the figure may be well over 50%. The Daily Beast has an excellent round-up on Sochi Olympics corruption.
The natural next question is whether any Olympic sponsor money has been used to finance those “bribes and kickbacks.” And if so, were the sponsors aware that their money was going for foreign corrupt practices? And, what have the sponsors done about it?
That’s the real question the Olympic sponsors would like to pretend we never asked.