Bad Omen for Olympics as Johnson & Johnson Takes a Powder

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The loss of Johnson & Johnson as a $30 million sponsor of the Salt Lake City Olympics is a warning sign that the cozy relationship between big business and the Olympics could be in trouble. The pharmaceutical company becomes the first major sponsor to walk away from the event in the wake of the bribery scandal. "This is a very serious development," says TIME senior editor Bill Saporito. "It signals that some corporations will not fall over themselves to support what is perceived to be a corrupt organization."

Johnson & Johnson made a simple p.r. and money decision. It concluded, in part, that its image and profits as a health-enhancing company could not square with a sports event tainted by scandal. Corporate financial backing has become the vital adrenaline for the success of the Olympics, and the games in turn have become a major promotional tool for big businesses. "Ever since Peter Ueberroth made the Olympics into a big business event at the 1984 games in Los Angeles," says Saporito, "the games have changed into a pure money event." Although Johnson & Johnson is the first major company to pull out and sponsors such as Coca-Cola have remained on board, no new corporations have signed on as Olympic backers since the scandal broke. Now some observers believe that the rumbling set off by the Johnson & Johnson decision could turn into an avalanche if the IOC does not succeed in cleaning up its act.