A boxing kangaroo has long been an emblem for Australian sport, so surely it was fair dinkum for the Aussie Winter Olympic team to display a two storey high flag of the marsupial mascot outside their Olympic Village accommodation? The IOC did not agree, as Nick Johnson reports.
Who: International Olympic Committee, Australian Olympic Committee
When: February 2010
Law stated as at: 3 March 2010
Following initial objections from the IOC, the Australian Winter Olympics team were eventually allowed to keep a two storey high flag of their "boxing kangaroo" mascot displayed outside their Olympic Village accommodation.
IOC officials at the Vancouver 2010 Games had objected that the yellow kangaroo with red boxing gloves was a registered trade mark and a commercial property. They asked the AOC to take the flag down. Initially, a defiant AOC refused to comply, saying the marsupial was a symbol of the country's fighting spirit and that they would only consider taking it down if the IOC requested this in writing.
However, following high level IOC/AOC talks it soon became clear that the kangaroo fell foul of branding and mascot rules in the Olympic Charter. Rule 32 states:
"The flag, the emblem and the anthem adopted by [a National Olympic Committee] for use in relation to its activities, including the Olympic Games, shall be subject to the approval of the IOC Executive Board."
The boxing kangaroo had never been through that approval process. Concerns were also raised that, because it was a registered trade mark, it could be a commercial symbol – Rule 51(2) states:
"No form of advertising or other publicity shall be allowed in and above the stadia, venues and other competition areas which are considered as part of the Olympic sites. Commercial installations and advertising signs shall not be allowed in the stadia, venues or other sports grounds."
However the dispute, which by that stage had attracted considerable international media interest, was quickly resolved on the basis that the AOC agreed to register the image with the IOC as the AOC's third identification (alongside their coat of arms and the Australian flag). The AOC were also able to confirm that the boxing kangaroo was not being used on merchandise or licensed goods in Vancouver or online.
Why this matters:
The incident shows just how zealous Olympic branding police can be in tackling what they perceive to be prohibited branding. The "clean venue" policy of the IOC has an extremely broad scope, and any brand infringing that policy – be they official sponsors or unauthorised ambush marketers – can expect to be challenged quickly.