Rule 40 and the (over)reach of the Olympic Sponsors

There is a bit of a controversy brewing at the Olympics, and it has to do with the ominous sounding Rule 40. But what is Rule 40? According to the London Organizing Committee,

Rule 40 of the Olympic Charter limits athletes competing in the Olympic Games from appearing in advertising during and shortly before the Olympic Games. This helps prevent ambush marketing which might otherwise utilise athletes to create an association with the Games.

This rule does not apply to Official Games Sponsors, who have invested millions into the games. Rule 40 is rationalized as a means of protecting the corporate sponsors, whose money helps the Games occur. Athletes are still free to appear in advertisements for those companies during and leading up to the games, however if they are sponsored by any other company, they are not allowed to lend their likeness to any campaign during this time. A time when the athlete is at their most visible and their earning potential is at their greatest. Most all of the competing Olympians (the professional athletes aside) depend on sponsorships in order to make the dream of competing at the Olympics a reality, as the training demands of an amateur athlete often conflict with the ability to maintain a regular job. The restrictions placed on athletes by Rule 40, preventing them from promoting themselves and their life-long sponsors, has caused a bit of a commotion, particularly in the US Track and Field Team, which took to Twitter to protest and demand changes. Many athletes sent out the following tweet,

I am honored to be an Olympian, but  

Given that these Games are being heralded as the social media Games reaching out to Twitter might be an effective strategy for gaining some attention. However, athletes need to be careful with their tweets as Rule 40 also extends into the social media realm;

Participants and other accredited persons are not permitted to promote any brand, product or service within a posting, blog or tweet or otherwise on any social media platforms or on any websites

Additionally, athletes are not allowed to use the Olympic symbol, the symbol which has been driving them to compete and strive for greatness, in their social media posts;

Participants and other accredited persons must not use the Olympic Symbol – i.e. the five interlaced rings, which is the property of the IOC – on their postings, blogs or tweets on any social media platforms or on any websites


Hopefully the Olympic Ring tattoos are outside the reach of Rule 40 and the other IOC guidelines, other wise a lot of athletes, like Ryan Cochrane, will need to keep those tattoos hidden in their postings.

What these guidelines ensure is that any advertising on social media channels that is associated with the Olympics, is associated with an official Olympic sponsor. The athletes are asking that they be allowed to decide how and why they use their own likeness, especially during the only time when many athletes will have the public spotlight. These guidelines have the potential to hurt unofficial Olympic sponsors who sponsor amateur athletes year round, and desperately need to be revisited. Over at Oiselle Running, there is a great post summarizing these guidelines, explaining what they mean for small sponsors, and including tips on what can be done to affect change, mainly through social media.

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