Olympic sponsors’ torchbearers: the billionaires, MDs and company presidents

The richest man in Britain, the deputy editor of a Russian newspaper, a Brazilian food and drink magnate and the winner of a Chinese talent show are just some of the figures to be chosen by Olympic sponsors to carry the torch across Britain, according to an analysis of Olympic torchbearer nomination stories.

The stories of the individuals described by the London 2012 site as “inspirational people” include “achieving the number one manufacturer spot [for Samsung] for 32 consecutive weeks”; “[Marketing] promotional items to [BP] customers” and “[giving] up chunks of evenings and whole weekends to help the team maximise PR/event opportunities [for Cadbury]”.

Steel and mining company ArcelorMittal, for example, have contributed just two torchbearers: Aditya and Lakshmi Mittal.

Lakshmi is CEO of ArcelorMittal, the richest man in Britain in 2010. He says in his nomination story:

“When I think about parallels between myself and an Olympian, I believe that success in the world of business is underpinned by very similar principles of perseverance and hard work.”

He adds:

“I hope that by carrying the torch I will be representing many other people who share these ideals with me. I also believe that by participating in this relay, I am representing the 270 thousand people around the world who are a part of the ArcelorMittal family.”

Only one of those 270,000 employees appear to have been given the opportunity to carry the torch: his son Aditya Mittal, who has this nomination story:

“As head of Mergers & Acquisitions he initiated and led Mittal Steel’s offer for Arcelor to create the world’s largest steel company and is now helping run it. This year he assumed responsibility for the European operations, the company’s largest division.”

Being there “on merit”

Sponsors’ choice of torchbearers has already generated anger in Bridlington, where some residents decided to organise an alternative torch relay when a top local disabled athlete was overlooked in favour of a Saudi businessman. This is Hull and East Riding reported:

“”The alternative relay will see four Bridlington athletes carry a torch through their hometown.

“They are disabled long jump star Yasmin Pickering, athlete Ben Marshall, and two members of the town’s fencing club – Val Hoodless and Joy Fleetham, who is 78 and still competing.

“A spokeswoman for LOCOG, organisers of the official torch relay, said: “People who are running in the relay were chosen on the merits of their story, not just because they were from the area.

“”We weren’t able to place people from Bridlington if they weren’t successful in the public nominations.””

Other people whose stories merited inclusion as a torchbearer include Samsung‘s President & CEO for Southeast Asia, Oceania and Taiwan Gregory Lee; Andy Griffiths who “has led Samsung UK’s Consumer Electronics business since the end of 2005″; George Ferriera, Chief Operations Officer at Samsung Africa Regional Head quarters; and Simon Stanford, Managing Director for Samsung Mobile in the UK and Ireland, whose nomination story mentions his team’s “huge efforts on achieving the number one manufacturer spot for 32 consecutive weeks.”:

“Staff rewards to date have included a night for the entire team to a Take That gig, of which Samsung were headline sponsor, as well as recently introducing an annual awards night, where several members of the team will be rewarded for their ongoing commitment to the business.”

Notably, Samsung’s terms and conditions for its nomination process specify that “Employees or agents of the Promoter [Samsung] or any of its group companies or their families or households or anyone professionally connected to this promotion or any Nomination Process are not eligible to enter.”

Other nomination stories from Samsung include:

  • Jonghyuk Jeong, who “has worked over 15 years at Samsung heavy industry shipbuilding yard in Geo Je do and he is doing hobby of taking a picture.”
  • Svein Eric Durr: “When we introduced the sales competition in the Telenor chain Telekiosken (largest retailer in Norway) Svein Eric quickly became the competitor to beat.”
  • Major Liu: “He was chosen as the Olympic torchbearer because he won champion in ‘Samsung S Talent Show'”

Samsung has also nominated Miss Vietnam World 2007 Ngo Phuong Lan and businessman Sandiaga Uno and “actress-cum-politician” Wanda Hamidah from Indonesia.

According to one press release (PDF), the company is providing 1360 torchbearers. Being able to allocate torchbearer places in this way is one of the benefits of being a “presenting partner” for the relay, of which there are three: Samsung, Lloyds TSB and Coca Cola. Samsung’s terms and conditions for its nomination process also say that only 463 of those slots were available through their online nomination process – at least some of the others will have been allocated through promotional campaigns with media partners.

Documentation from the previous Olympics (PDF) suggests that 27% of those torchbearer spaces were given to sponsors, with a further 11% given to the Chinese Olympic Committee, the Beijing Organising Committee, and the Olympic Family.

Documentation for this year’s Olympic torch relay from the British Olympic Association provides the following:

“In total there will be 8000 Torchbearers of which 90% have been allocated to the three presenting partners; Coca Cola, Lloyds and Samsung. 90% of these slots will be allocated to the general public through each company’s own public selection process. The remaining 10% has been allocated to other deserving bodies, of which the British Olympic Association is one.

“50% of the runners will be between 12 – 24 years of age and each individual will be within 1 hours transport to the Relay route.”

The figures are poorly presented, but might be understood as follows:

  • 8000 torchbearers total
  • 90% of 8000 allocated to three presenting partners = 7200, or 2400 per partner
  • 10% (800) allocated to other bodies. Sport England, for example, says it was asked to nominate 53 people. Torchbearer data suggests that sponsors who are not presenting partners have also been allocated some of these spaces.
  • 90% of presenting partners’ torchbearer spaces allocated to the public = 2160 per partner
  • 10% not allocated to the public = 240 per partner – 720 total.

It’s not clear where the 700 celebrity torchbearers fit into these figures, although at least some are representing presenting partners: Will.i.am representing Coca Cola, for example, and Didier Drogba representing Samsung.

It’s also not clear how many choices fulfil the promise that “each individual will be within 1 hours transport to the Relay route” (which may only refer to the BOA), but it’s clearly not all.

There are also contradictory figures given elsewhere, with Around The Rings reporting that:

“Only 2,012 of the 8,000 torchbearer spots are up for grabs via LOCOG’s so-called “Moment to Shine” campaign. The rest will be awarded by presenting partners.”

Partners are described as “narrowing a portion of its search to a specific demographic”, with Northwest Europe & Nordics president for Coca-Cola James Quincey quoted as looking to help “young people in the UK” to “celebrate sport, music and life by carrying the Olympic flame.” Sally Hancock, group sponsorship director for Lloyds TSB says their campaign will look for “people who have helped children to make a difference in the world,” while Samsung “withheld mention of any nomination criteria during Wednesday’s announcement, instead focusing on the big picture.”

The food and drink magnate and deputy editor

Coca Cola, who recently distributed a press release about the “22 inspiring Americans” on their list, are less vocal about being represented among the torchbearers by “one of the most admired businessmen in southern Brazil”, Ricardo Vontobel, the President of food and drink company Vonpar, and by Evgeny Faktorovich, “deputy editor-in-chief of one of the biggest Russian daily“.

Cadbury‘s sole representative Jerry Daykin has a nomination story about a role that “involves both strategic planning and actively managing social media channels/chatting with our consumers – often far outside office hours. He’s given up chunks of his evenings and whole weekends to help the team maximise PR/event opportunities and I’ve never heard him complain about having to do so.”

BP use most of their nominations for fundraisers, although one torchbearer is put forward because her qualities included:

“Being able to advise customers on alternative [products]. Markets promotional items to customers especially the wild bean. Always cleaning the environment when the store is less busy. Always ensuring compliance with BP Golden Rules. She cleans the forecourt all the time.”

Another’s nomination comes from having “created and delivered an outstanding digital communications platform for BP’s London 2012 partnership”.

British Airways , Adecco, BMW, Visa, Thomas Cook, Panasonic, McDonalds, BT, Lloyds TSB all generally nominated people with stories that focus on the fundraising, sporting and volunteering efforts of the torchbearers. French energy company EDF are also part of that list – although there is one rather amusing, rather brief ‘nomination story’ from Slovakian Marian Berger:

“In the first place, I dismissed the idea of being the Slovakian representative of EDF Group to carry the Olympic torch in Great Britain I was about to do the usual thing of closing the window and deleting the e-mail”