PUBLISHED: 07:07 EST, 31 July 2012 | UPDATED: 12:03 EST, 31 July 2012
- American track and field stars take to Twitter and blogs to demand changes to ‘Rule 40’
- Rule states that only approved Olympic sponsors can be advertised during the Games
- Hurdler Dawn Harper posts ‘gag’ picture on Twitter
- IOC demands American officials quell the protest
Members of the American athletics team have launched a protest against strict corporate sponsorship rules which prevent competitors promoting non-official brands during the Olympic Games.
Dozens of track and field athletes have taken to Twitter, Facebook and personal blogs to demand reform of ‘Rule 40’ which forbids them to advertise their own personal sponsors if they are not approved Olympic partners.
The 100m hurdler Dawn Harper even posted a photograph on Twitter of her mouth gagged with duct tape with ‘Rule 40’ written on it.
The American hurdler Dawn Harper posted this picture on Twitter in protest at restrictions against sponsorship at the Olympics
The International Olympic Committee issued guidelines to all athletes prior to the London Games saying they could be sanctioned if they openly promote other brands.
The IOC wanted to protect the exclusivity of companies such as Adidas, McDonalds and BMW, who have paid more than £609m towards the Games, and say there would be no Olympics without big-money sponsors.
But the athletes argue that they are missing out on the biggest opportunity to promote their own sponsors, who often pay for their equipment, training facilities and travel to competition.
At the forefront of the protest is 400m runner Sanya Richards-Ross, who pointed out that while Olympic stars can command million-dollar sponsorship deals, many other amateur members of the squad don’t receive any funding and have to combine training with study or part-time jobs.
Richards-Ross, a gold medal winner in the Athens and Beijing Olympics, is married to NFL American football star Aaron Ross, who plays for the Jacksonville Jaguars on a three-year $15.3m (£9.75m) contract.
But she spoke out for her teammates yesterday, saying: ‘People see the Olympic Games, when athletes are at their best but they don’t see the three or four years before when many of my peers are struggling to stay in the sport.
The US sprinter Sanya Richards-Ross is leading the protest about Olympic sponsorship. She is married to NFL star Aaron Ross, who plays on a $15.3m (£9.75m) deal with the Jacksonville Jaguars
Richards-Ross spoke out on behalf of her teammates at a press conference yesterday just days before the start of the athletics events at London 2012
Richards-Ross, as well as the American athletics team, are sponsored by Nike. The official partner of the 2012 Games is rival Adidas
‘The majority of track and field athletes don’t have sponsors. In the sport, a lot of my peers have second and third jobs to be able to do this.
‘We understand that the IOC is protecting its sponsors but we want to have a voice as well.’
She claimed that only two per cent of American athletes would be able to tweet about their sponsors because they are in line with official Olympic brands.
Richards-Ross was also leading the protest on Twitter, where the hashtags #WeDemandChange and #Rule40 were trending yesterday.
She was supported by other members of the US Olympic team, including long distance runner Bernard Lagat, javelin thrower Kara Patterson, sprinter Lauryn Williams and many others.
Sanya Richards-Ross has been leading the protests on Twitter
A tweet by sprinter Lauryn Williams asking why athletes are unable to advertise personal sponsors
A Facebook post by runner Leo Manzano in protest at requests to remove pictures of his running shoes
Harper later tweeted the duct tape gag picture alongside the message: ‘Goodnight world… Can anyone guess what’ll be in my dreams? #Rule40’
Rule 40 of the Olympic Charter 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.’
The rule was reinforced by a 20-page briefing note sent to all athletes and agents by Games organisers LOCOG.
It explains: ‘Ambush marketers have, in the past, used their association with athletes to suggest or imply that they have an association with the Olympic Games. This undermines the exclusivity that Organising Committees can offer official Games and Team sponsors, without whose investment the Games could not happen.’
The distance runner Bernard Lagat was among the many American athletes who pledged their support to the protest
The IOC said today that they would be summoning officials from the United States Olympic Committee and asking them to ‘reach out’ to their athletes to quell the protests.
In response, the USOC spokesman Patrick Sandusky said the athletes should appreciate the investment of official sponsors.
He said: ‘While the athletes are the heart of the Olympic Games, and the Movement more broadly, without the support of our official partners, the Games would not be able to happen.
‘Our partners provide 40 percent of our budget. If the value of those sponsorships declines because we can no longer provide exclusivity, then our level of support for athletes overall will decline. The result of loses by these standards will be less money to athletes, not more.’
This will come as little consolation to some American athletes, who now look likely to lose money on the London Olympics.
The middle-distance runner Leo Manzano said he was ‘disappointed’ after being made to take down pictures of his shoes and comments about their performance from his Facebook page.
‘This rule is very distracting to us athletes, and it takes away from our Olympic experience and training,’ he said.
20km walk athlete Maria Michta wrote an opinionated blog entry in which she talked about the difficulties of making ends meet while training for the Olympics.
She wrote: ‘I have no big brand coropoarate sponosor [sic] who gives me free gear, pays me a salary, and gives me a bonus for making it to events like the Olympics or rewards my spotlight in the media with another bonus check.
‘No my sponsors are my family, my friends, my high school community, the family of race walkers around the country. My sponsor bonus comes from each and every dollar thrown in my bucket and every donation on my website.’
The rebel athletes have gained the support of Ed Moses, Olympic hurdles champion in 1976 and 1984, who said track and field was trailing professional sports in terms of earning potential.
BENDING THE RULES: WHAT THE FUSS IS ALL ABOUT
RULE 40 FROM THE OLYMPIC CHARTER:
‘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.’
THE BRIEFING NOTE SENT OUT TO ATHLETES BY LOCOG:
‘Ambush marketers have, in the past, used their association with athletes to suggest or imply that they have an association with the Olympic Games. This undermines the exclusivity that Organising Committees can offer official Games and Team sponsors, without whose investment the Games could not happen.
‘The implication of an association with the Games through use of athletes is particularly powerful during and immediately before the Games.’
It adds: ‘Participants who do not comply with Rule 40 may be sanctioned by the IOC and/or by the BOA in accordance with the Team Members’ Agreement which provides for wide ranging sanctions, including amongst other things removal of accreditation and financial penalties.’