Who: International Olympic Committee
When: February 2015
Law stated as at: 13 March 2015
The Executive Board of the International Olympic Committee voted to relax strict “black-out” rules that have historically prevented athletes from appearing in any advertising for non-sponsors during an Olympic Games period.
Subject to full IOC approval in July, the rule will be modified in time for the Rio 2016 Games so as to allow “generic (non-Olympic)” advertising, according to an IOC release.
Why this matters:
Byelaw 3 to Rule 40 of the Olympic Charter currently states:
“Except as permitted by the IOC Executive Board, no competitor, coach, trainer or official who participates in the Olympic Games may allow his person, name, picture or sports performances to be used for advertising purposes during the Olympic Games.”
This has historically given rise to a “black-out” period during which only a limited number of official sponsors of the Games have been able to use the names and images of competitors in their advertising. Athletes breaching the rule risk various sanctions under the Olympic Charter, including potential disqualification.
The rule has acted to enhance massively the value of Olympic sponsorships. However athletes have long complained that it does so at their expense, significantly reducing their potential earnings from endorsement and sponsorship arrangements.
For the London 2012 Olympics, Rule 40 was softened a little with a system of “deemed consent” for certain limited categories of materials featuring athletes, including limited areas within corporate websites, longstanding athlete depictions on packaging etc. The new proposals appear to go much further.
While the precise wording of the proposed amendment is not yet known, it looks set to open up a whole new front in the perennial Games-time battle between non-sponsor brands and the Olympic authorities. It’s not hard to see how a brand’s use of a well-known Olympic athlete in advertising during the Olympic Games could – depending on the content and context of the ad – be argued to suggest that the brand has an association with the Olympic Games.
For non-sponsors and for media owners the proposed rule change looks like good news, enabling a wider range of ads featuring athletes to be run during the Games period – and with brands no longer having to switch creative materials at the start of the period. Non-sponsors will though need to give careful thought as to how to position any athlete references and depictions so as to avoid the risk of being challenged for suggesting an association with the Games.