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Nike asks Chinese government to identify Yahoo blogger

Company that once stood for rebellion has asked China to find a blogger critical of Nike's alleged involvement in the withdrawal of star Chinese hurdler Liu Xiang.

When the rebel becomes king, it doesn't mean the people will suddenly be smiling.

Nike, once the brand that championed all who challenged authority, seems to have suddenly taken on the mantle, as well as the athletic supporter, of a regime not known for its fondness for allowing people to just do it.

The story begins with tears and might end in many more.

Many Chinese faces were moist when Liu Xiang, a very pretty 110-meter hurdler, suddenly withdrew from the preliminary heats of the Olympic competition.

It all looked a little odd. He was apparently seen kicking an iron door in an aggressive manner shortly before the race. He went out onto the track and suddenly declared his ankle wasn't up to the task. He limped off in apparent agony.

Shortly afterward, someone who claimed to be a member of Nike's inside lane, wrote a post on a Yahoo message board that accused the company of being complicit in Liu Xiang's sudden exit.

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The suggestion was that Nike knew Liu Xiang couldn't win, so they told him not to run, as a disappointing performance would harm their investment in him far more than a heart-tugging withdrawal.

Now the odd thing is that this isn't the first time someone has accused Nike of having more than a digit in live sporting decisions.

When a curiously subdued, possibly drugged, and entirely sleep-walking Ronaldo played for Brazil in the 1998 World Cup Final, there were more than a few commentators willing to debate whether the only reason he had been on the field at all was because Nike, the team's sponsor, had insisted.

So how do you think Nike reacted to this Yahoo posting? Ignored it, perhaps? Launched a PR campaign featuring Liu Xiang hopping on his good ankle? Not quite.

"We have immediately asked relevant government departments to investigate those that started the rumor," said Nike spokesman Charlie Brooks.

I will pause now to allow you to perform your best double take.


Yes, Nike, the brand that prides itself on the iconoclastic and fantastic, has asked the not fantastically democratic Chinese government to root out this rogue and, well, shake him by the sleeves of his t-shirt, perhaps.

Mr. Brooks told The Guardian newspaper: "This isn't about a debate on freedom of speech. It's simply helping us to identify the person who posted it."

Which suggests that Nike either has a good suspicion as to the person's identity. Or not. It might also suggest to some that Nike has temporarily lost the part of its inner brain that judges when to stir things up and when to move right along.

What can Nike gain from behaving like a granny who's just had her handbag stolen by a tiny teenager and asked a big, burly policeman to find the man who took it? The company's actions serve only to highlight the issue more, when letting a sleeping blog lie might have allowed for this little conspiracy theory to waft its way into the annals of obscurity.

Unless, of course, it isn't a conspiracy theory at all, and they fear that this one little rumor might give credence to a quite staggeringly cynical story.

It all just feels so very, very unNike. Think about it. A brand that so many still admire thanks to Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, Spike Lee, and remixes of old Elvis tracks, working together with "government departments." In China.

I wonder if they called Jerry Yang first to see how this blogger nonsense works over there. (Web debate on this subject in China is already being, how can one put it, edited.)

And I wonder what the "government departments" will do to the person who posted this tale.

Community service in a sweatshop, perhaps?