In business, as in sport, sometimes it never rains but it pours, and in logging on to the Financial Times, website yesterday, eyes were drawn to a headline proclaiming, "Chinese courier sets fire to himself in protest over unpaid Alibaba wages". 

 The item continued: "Images of driver go viral on social media renewing concerns over tech sector’s working practices."

My first reaction, besides wishing the poor man a speedy recovery from his burns, was to think such headlines were the last thing the International Olympic Committee (IOC) worldwide sponsor needed after weeks of relentless bad news.

The run started in late October with a bust-up with regulators which led to the suspension of an initial public offering (IPO) of Ant Group, a fast-developing financial technology company in which Alibaba has about a 33 per cent stake.

This was not just any IPO: at a cool $37 billion (£28 billion/€31 billion), it had been expected to be the world’s biggest.

Since then, Jack Ma, the charismatic businessman who founded both Alibaba and Ant, has not been seen in public, triggering growing speculation, and the price of Alibaba shares has fallen from more than $300 (£330/€245) to less than $230 (£170/€190).

Meanwhile, the regulatory onslaught has continued with the launch of an anti-trust probe into Alibaba.

The saga has been widely interpreted as a brusque reminder to Ma and other Chinese entrepreneurs, whose activities have helped to spur the country’s explosive economic growth of recent times, of just who is in charge in President Xi Jinping’s increasingly assertive China.

The whole thing adds up to yet another giant, and in this case rather unexpected, headache for the IOC, at a time when all hands are at the Tokyo pump, striving to ensure that the already postponed 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games can actually go ahead, even though the pandemic is showing no sign of dying away.

It is little more than a year before Lausanne faces the prospect of setting up camp for a Winter Games in and around the Chinese capital, with the nation’s leader at serious loggerheads with the IOC’s most prominent Chinese commercial partner.

If they can spare the time from monitoring Japan’s COVID-19 statistics, IOC President Thomas Bach and his main lieutenants must be hoping mightily that Xi versus Ma reaches some sort of resolution well before the end of this year.

Full details of the protesting delivery driver’s circumstances may take time to emerge, but it almost does not matter in terms of the public relations impact of the story for the tech sector and the so-called "gig" economy.

Such workers received high plaudits for continuing to deliver essentials at the height of China’s COVID crisis.

It seems hard to imagine the public taking the side of Big Tech in any resultant debate over working conditions in the sector.