Top Olympic official Michael Payne yesterday urged sports bodies to avoid allowing sponsors to control the destiny of world sport. Speaking at the opening ceremony for Hong Kong's Marketing of Sports in the 21st Century Conference, Payne said the corporate dollar was crucial to the successful marketing of sports. With millions of sponsorship dollars injected into sports these days, sports organisations might feel obliged to cede control. However, Payne, the International Olympic Committee's (IOC) marketing director, said a partnership with sponsors should be formed, with the sports bodies holding the controlling share. 'At the end of the day, who will be running the show: sports bodies or commercial third parties?' said Payne. 'Sport is at a crossroads. A commercial agenda, like that of Formula One or public football ownership, can be very successful, but not without tremendous risk. 'Sport will need to decide where, when and whether to cede ownership. In most cases, I would suggest it does not. Sport must control sport - not commercial third parties.' Warning signs that commercialisation may be dominating big sporting events were evident in the streets and shopping complexes of Atlanta last year during the Olympic Games. Even IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch said things were going too far. Payne said sports bodies' best way of combatting the corporate threat was to keep abreast of the times and the latest marketing tools. 'We, as sports marketers, have to be open to change and willing to take the steps necessary to protect and build our future,' said Payne. 'If we don't take control of our own destiny, commercialisation - not partnership - will. Sport will lose its distinction and, with it, opportunity. 'We need to control the business agenda and not let it be hijacked by the commercial trends of the advertising and broadcast industry.' However, it was hardly all negative. Payne said sponsorship was important to sports, and official figures of US$153 billion being spent on sponsorship this year, of which 65 per cent goes to sport, was only a fraction of the real picture when television advertising, promotions and other factors were taken into account. He said sponsors were spending more than US$50 million in rights fees on the Olympics and a further US$500 million in advertising and marketing support. The IOC has already negotiated rights fees up to the 2008 Summer Olympics worth more than US$5.8 billion. More than US$500 million in Olympic sports sponsorship will benefit the IOC's 197 National Olympic Committees. In 1984, the television rights for the Winter Olympics was US$103 million. In Nagano next year, the fees will exceed US$512 million. 'Sport can offer a strong return on investment for those companies who understand the opportunity and properly activate the sponsorship,' added Payne. Also speaking yesterday was Chinese Olympic Committee secretary general Wei Jizhong , who said China was soon hoping to change its system from a government-run programme to a social undertaking, leading to the eventual industrialisation of sport in China. Other interesting ideas on sports marketing were yesterday offered by IMG's Breck McCormack and Mary Reiling, of NBA Asia.