Alibaba to hold 'Olympic torch' till 2028, signs historic deal with IOC


The International Olympic Committee (IOC) and Alibaba Group on Thursday jointly announced a long-term partnership through 2028 at a press meet held at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Joining The Olympic Partner (TOP) worldwide sponsorship programme, Alibaba will become the official 'Cloud Services' and 'E-Commerce Platform Services' Partner, as well as a Founding Partner of the Olympic Channel.

IOC President Thomas Bach, Alibaba Group Founder and Executive Chairman Jack Ma, and Alibaba Group Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Daniel Zhang addressed the gathering. Bach said:

In this new digital world, Alibaba is uniquely positioned to help the IOC achieve a variety of key objectives outlined in Olympic Agenda 2020, while positively shaping the future of the Olympic Movement. This alliance will help drive efficiencies in the organisation of the Olympic Games through 2028, whilst also supporting the global development of digital opportunities including the Olympic Channel.
Image credit: Aditya Ranade

Through this partnership, Alibaba’s contributions to the Olympic Movement will include:

  • Cloud computing infrastructure and cloud services to help the Olympic Games operate more efficiently, effectively, and securely, including supporting big data analytics requirements.
  • Creation of a global e-commerce platform for Olympic stakeholders to engage and connect with fans seeking official Olympic licensed products manufactured by the Olympic parties’ official licensees, and selected sports products, on a worldwide basis.
  • Leveraging Alibaba’s digital media technologies and know-how to develop and customise the Olympic Channel for a Chinese audience. Ma said, "We will work with the IOC to build a digital platform to make the content available for generations."

Ma noted that this partnership with the IOC is built on a foundation of shared values and a common vision for connecting the world and enriching people’s lives. He said,

We are proud to support Olympic Agenda 2020, using our innovations and technologies to help evolve the Olympic Games for the digital era.

Zhang noted that this partnership is in line with their vision to empower the IOC and also serve their two billion customers. He said, “We will leverage our experience in serving a young user base to help connect more young people to the Olympic Movement, helping to strengthen our brand through this historic partnership.”

Alibaba is the first company to make a long-term commitment to the IOC through 2028 and the first Chinese company to commit to the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022. Alibaba now joins an elite corporate list that includes giants like Coca-Cola, Samsung, Panasonic, Dow, McDonald’s, and Visa as part of the 'worldwide sponsorship programme' for the IOC.

Terms of the 'marriage'

Addressing the gathering, Ma joked that the alliance with the IOC was like a marriage based on mutual understanding of each other's needs.

While the IOC and Alibaba Group declined to disclose the financial nature of the partnership, they mentioned that according to the terms, Alibaba would support the organisers of each edition of the Olympic Games and the Olympic Movement around the world. These rights will include advertising and promotional use of Olympic marks and imagery from the Olympic Games as well as marks from the National Olympic Committees.

Alibaba’s global activation rights will include the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018, the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022, and the Olympic and Olympic Winter Games in 2024, 2026, and 2028 in cities yet to be selected by the IOC.

Winning mindset

Ma noted that through the partnership, he aims to get more young people involved in sports. He noted that sports is not just about muscle, but also about brains and emotions. Talking about a winning mindset, he said,

If you want to be successful, you have to have EQ (emotional quotient); if you want to be respected, you have to have the love quotient.

While Ma said that Alibaba's focus is on happiness and health for the world, Bach joked, "We want internet tech companies to empower more young people to reach the Olympics and move 'couch potatoes' off the couch."

Concerns over counterfeit goods 

Alibaba most recently joined forces with 20 brands including Louis Vuitton, Samsung, and Swarovski to fight the counterfeiting business, which has been a problem for global retail.

Addressing the elephant in the room, a Wall Street Journal reporter questioned Ma on how the IOC and Alibaba were planning to tackle the problem of counterfeit goods being sold through the latter. The reporter noted that as of that moment, counterfeit Olympic products based on the last Olympics' design themes were being sold on Alibaba.

Ma replied that because of the sheer volume of sellers on Alibaba, it is almost impossible to eliminate counterfeit goods and their sellers overnight, but Alibaba and its partners would together solve the problem. While terming those who make counterfeit goods, "globalised criminals," he said that while thinking is easy, it is difficult to clean up all the dirt overnight. He said,

For the last 17 years, we have been fighting fake products. We cannot finish the war by a single company in a day or two. We have the world’s leading technology, and a 2,000-member anti-counterfeit team. It is getting cleaner every day.