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Alibaba’s Jack Ma: I believe businesses should compete with an Olympic spirit


By Charlotte McEleny, Asia Editor

February 10, 2018 | 5 min read

Alibaba’s Jack Ma and International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach today gave a joint preview of the ten-year partnership in which Alibaba will help digitise the Olympics using cloud technology.

Speaking at a press conference in PyeongChang, at the Winter Olympics, Jack Ma gave a characteristically emotive speech about the shared vision of Alibaba and the IOC to promote equality.

Alibaba Group founder and chairman, Jack Ma, said: “I remember two years ago, when I met President Bach in his office, I was moved by his vision for the future. We share the same values. We both believe that we are all born equal and we should all have an equal platform for the future, everyone should compete equally."

"I believe in the spirit of the Olympics, the fight and the spirit of competition, and I believe the real world, and the business world, should also compete like the Olympic spirit. If we all had that Olympic spirit, the world would be more peaceful. We believe that no matter whether from a county that is big, small, rich or poor, they should have an equal chance," he added.

The deal was formalised last year and since then Alibaba has launched a major campaign around the event, including online and offline advertising, as well as an experiential space at the Olympic village, where the speech was held.

Bach explained that in the one year, there was already progress being made, despite the digitisation of the IOC being such a major task.

“We would not have expected to make such good progress in such a short period of time because, for us at the IOC, it was far from being business as usual, it was entering into a new era,” he said.

He said that, from an IOC perspective there were three key objectives. Firstly, it is to make the Olympics “more feasible and sustainable” through the cost savings it’ll be able to share from using the cloud. Secondly, the integration of e-commerce, both for sponsors and sales but also in order to create a close tie between the Olympics and fans. A key part of the digitisation is to future proof the competition and make it easier for young people to interact with. Thirdly, Alibaba will help the IOC develop its Olympic Channel.

Alongside these three goals, Alibaba showcased technology that would be used to do this, including personalised commerce, cloud media and the use of AI to augment the reporting and content of news.

The launch of the Alibaba Cloud ET Sports Brain was also took place, a set of cloud and AI solutions specifically tailored to sports fans, venues, athletes and organisational bodies.

Speaking to reporters after the event, Joey Tan, head of global strategic initiatives, Alibaba Cloud, said the Olympics was a springboard for further partnerships with sporting bodies.

“In the sports world, everyone would agree that the value of the Olympic brand is the most revered, this is the highest branded federation of all. If we look at the whole journey of where we are going, Jack’s vision is that we need to engage the young and bring about health and happiness, and what’s more natural than sports? Everything related to sports is about health and happiness."

"So if I look at where we are today, we started with the Olympics and created the ET Sports Brain for the Olympics - leveraged our tech to give them an inclusive tech platform that only the Olympics can use but also other sports federations. If I can do it for Olympics, we could do it for basketball or other federations,” he said.

One of the final parts to the partnership is that Alibaba will lead integration of e-commerce with other Olympics sponsors, such as P&G, McDonald’s and Coca-Cola. However, Tan, said that the way this will evolve isn’t set in stone, with some partnerships pre-existing and some of its services already live for sponsors to use, so it’ll be more case-by-case.

“If you see the T-Mall store, you see that we have a lot of e-commerce already on the site, and for how will that evolve? It is a process that will evolve with the companies and the IOC. If I look at it from other perspective, it is not the first day we’ve had an open platform and, when it comes to e-commerce there’s various tools of trade; there’s b2b, there’s T-Mall and TaoBao, so there’s lots of potential. Which bits belong to the sponsors and the mass audiences, this is what we are now working on. Proctor & Gamble, for example, are already on our platform, this is not new,” he explained.

Jack Ma said the Beijing Winter Olympic games in 2022 would be when this cloud dream would be fully realised, with Tokyo 2020 being where the fruits of the partnership would start to emerge. The showcase and PyeongChang sponsorship is the launchpad and opportunity for Alibaba to reveal what it’s going to start building on.

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