How the IOC’s Amended Rule 40 is Benefiting Olympic Athletes

August 19, 2016
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IOC Relaxes Rule 40 Restrictions on Non-Official Olympic Sponsors

Many of the athletes competing in Rio would not be at the Olympics without the financial support provided by corporate sponsors. However, the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) strict advertising rules (specifically Rule 40) generally prohibit competitors from even tweeting about non-official sponsors, and those companies are banned from running advertisements featuring sponsored athletes during the Games.

rule 40

In response to criticism regarding the stringent advertising restrictions, particularly with regard to the impact of athletes’ rights, the IOC did relax the rules slightly in advance of the Rio Games. However, there are still a number of hoops that businesses must jump through in order to avoid intellectual property infringement liability.

Rule 40 of the Olympic Charter

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 IOC’s Rule 40 guidelines place a number of restrictions on both athletes and non-Olympic commercial partners.

By way of example, any use of the image of a participant, taken during the Olympic Games, in combination with a company or brand, is prohibited. Olympic advertising rules also prohibit athletes from wearing branded apparel or accessories that are not part of the U.S. Team apparel issued by the USOC.

Under IOC guidelines, athletes may only use social media during the period of the Games for the purposes of sharing their experiences and communicating with their friends, family and supporters. Using social media for commercial and/or advertising purposes, including thanking sponsors, is expressly prohibited.

Changes Under the Relaxed Rules

In 2015, the IOC amended its Rule 40 guidance to enable continuation of in-market generic advertising featuring Rio Games participants during the Games period. The U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) subsequently adopted the IOC’s rule change.

In order to benefit from the Rule 40 changes, U.S. athletes and non-official sponsor companies were required to submit waivers to the USOC by January 27, 2016, including plans for advertising and social media campaigns. In addition, the campaigns must have been launched by March 27, 2016.

It is important to highlight that official Olympic IP, such the Olympic rings, is still off-limits.

Approved campaigns may not include direct or indirect association with the Rio Games, the USOC, Team USA, Olympic IP or terms generally associated with the Olympic Games. However, for companies that sponsor well-known athletes like Michael Phelps or Simone Biles, the official logos aren’t really necessary for a successful campaign. For an example, check out Under Armor’s “Rule Yourself” campaign with Michael Phelps and GoPro’s digital video series, “Finding Missy,” featuring Missy Franklin.

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For small businesses that did not have the opportunity to take advantage of the waiver process for the Rio Games, the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea are not that far away. In addition, there are ways to talk about the Olympics on social media without mentioning the Games by name, marketers just have to get creative (check out Ford’s “We Are All Fans”). Finally, Zerorez, a carpet cleaning company in Minnesota, filed a lawsuit against the USOC, alleging that the advertising rules exceed the trademark protection afforded under U.S. Code Chapter 2205.

If you are a business owner unsure of how to safely become a sponsor without liability or would like to discuss the matter further, contact me, Anthony Caruso.