Diplomatic boycotting of the Beijing Winter Olympics over alleged human rights abuses may feed the perception of the modern Olympics as synonymous with overspending, corruption and autocracy. However, the Olympic brand is and will remain sustainable in the face of such acrimony as long as it is athlete-centric, says Distinguished University Professor and David Bruce Smith Chair in Marketing Roland Rust at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business.

Rust is founding director of Maryland Smith’s Center for Excellence in Service and an international research fellow at Oxford University's Center for Corporate Reputation. He also is co-author of “The Feeling Economy: How Artificial Intelligence Is Creating the Era of Empathy” and leads the PR DC Elite running team, which includes Olympics hopefuls.

Rust says:

“From the athletes' perspective, the Olympics remain the most important world competition in many sports and given the short competitive lifespan of a top athlete, it would be devastating to those athletes to remove the Olympics from the competitive schedule.”

“Boycotts, although politically tempting, do little to dissuade autocratic hosts (e.g., Germany in 1936, Russia in 1980), but do lasting damage to the athletes who can't compete. From a marketing standpoint, even the would-be boycotters may benefit, as can be seen from the positive publicity from the Jesse Owens victories that embarrassed Hitler in Berlin in 1936."