Posted by: Frederik Balfour on March 9, 2009
Here’s some good news for China’s sports fans. Olympic hurdler Liu Xiang, who was forced to pull out of the Beijing games last August because of injury, has arrived back home after undergoing surgery in the U.S. The Chinese nation suffered a collective heartbreak last summer when Liu’s ankle injury prevented him from competing and the hero’s return is bound to make a lot of people happy.
His return is also good news for Liu’s many international sponsors including Coke, Visa, Nike and McDonalds, not to mention dozens of local Chinese brands. Liu is expected to begin his training immediately, and no doubt that means increased exposure from the likes of Coke, which benefited from some enormous free publicity over Chinese New Year when a spot featuring Liu was broadcast as part of nationwide television coverage of the festival. [Unlike Michael Phelps, who has proven to be a major embarassment for sponsors, Liu’s behavior off the field has been beyond reproach.] Liu’s return is also auspicious timing for Coke, still in quest to finalize a deal to acquire Huiyuan Juice, which requires the green light from Beijing to go ahead. The $2.4 billion takeover of the juice company would be a huge prize for Coke, and no doubt, its decision to stick by Liu through all his trials and tribulations has helped create plenty of goodwill with Beijing, and as my colleague Bruce Einhorn has predicted, the deal is likely to go through before the March 23 deadline.