The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has said that it intends to relax the rule requiring athletes not to participate in advertising campaigns by their individual sponsors during the games unless the individual sponsors are also official sponsors of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
The requirement is found in Rule 40 of the current Olympic Charter – the set of rules and guidelines for organizing and holding the Olympic Games. According to Bye-law 3 to Rule 40, 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.
Rule 40 is intended to ensure maximum exposure for brands belonging to the Olympic Games' official sponsors. But, depending on the scope of the rule, its application in Brazil could be open to challenge, because the rule involves individual rights and guarantees, such as the right to one's image and freedom of contract. Excessive restrictions could also be considered contrary to fundamental principles like the principle of free enterprise, with the potential to affect the rights of companies that have sponsorship agreements with Olympic athletes but are not official sponsors of the event.
A vital fact to keep in mind is that careers in sports are relatively short, and there are not many large-scale, high-visibility events for Olympic athletes, given the four-year interval between Olympic and Paralympic Games. Equally relevant is the fact that athletes' individual sponsors make a significant investment in exchange for public exposure of their brand, but are not allowed to obtain a return on their investment during the Olympic Games, which is precisely when the world's eyes are focused on the athlete.
On the other hand, the IOC merits recognition for its work in holding one of the biggest sports events on the planet, on a scale that demands large amounts of money raised by means of sponsorship quotas. The committee's rights as organizer of the event have to be preserved and it wouldn't be fair from a competition point of view to allow companies that didn't contribute financially to the Olympics and Paralympics to associate their brand with the Games. After all, except in some emblematic – and less common – cases, such as sprinter Usain Bolt, the amount invested in sponsorships of individual athletes tends to be less than the amount spent on an official Olympic Games sponsorship quota.
Concerns over potential challenges to the rule as currently written are likely one of the reasons the IOC decided to revise Rule 40. The IOC announced at a meeting held at the end of February this year that it intends to make the rule more flexible for the Rio 2015 Olympic Games.
The proposed amendment is being drafted and will be submitted for final approval during the 128th IOC Session, to be held in July of this year in Kuala Lumpur.
We are watching the amendment to Rule 40 closely in order to understand the conditions and limits that will apply to athletes, coaches and other participants who display their individual sponsors' brands during the Olympic Games. With that information in hand, we can assess the possible legal and business impacts for our clients, whether official IOC sponsors or not.
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