IOC resists change to rule limiting athlete sponsors
LAUSANNE, Switzerland — Amid International Olympic Committee resistance to athlete activism, Olympic competitors have been urged to negotiate with national officials directly if they want to gain freedoms to promote their personal sponsors during Summer and Winter Games.
IOC President Thomas Bach’s comments to an invited audience of athletes on Sunday confirmed the Olympic body will not extend worldwide the concessions won by German athletes in a recent federal government ruling.
“There is no ‘one size fits all’ solution,” Bach said when asked by a Canadian delegate about changing Olympic Charter Rule 40, which limits athletes’ commercial rights during official games periods
Rule 40 states “no competitor … may allow his person, name, picture or sports performances to be used for advertising purposes during the Olympic Games” without an official exemption.
The German anti-trust office in February described the rule as “too far-reaching … abusive conduct” when the Olympic Games represented the most marketable time in many athletes’ careers.
The rule protects exclusivity for Olympic sponsors, such as Coca-Cola, Proctor & Gamble and Toyota, and drives up the IOC’s revenues, which were $5.7 billion in the 2013-16 commercial cycle.
The IOC argues this is crucial to help fund games organizers, national Olympic committees and sports’ international governing bodies. A total of $540 million was shared among 28 summer sports federations from the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, and the NOCs also shared the same amount.
However, the IOC has resisted growing calls to pay athletes directly, including by the Athleten Deutschland group which gets funding from the federal government in Germany, Bach’s home country.
“You do not need others who pretend to speak on behalf of you,” Bach had said on April, opening the IOC-hosted conference. The audience was drawn from approved athlete panels in around 185 national Olympic bodies plus sports governing bodies.
Independent representatives, such as trade unions and the Global Athlete network launched this year and staffed by former World Anti-Doping Agency executives, were not invited.
Growing activism among athletes saw two speed skaters defeat the International Skating Union’s restrictive practices in a European ruling. Swimming body FINA increased prize money and created a new top-tier series after a privately owned competition was launched and three elite swimmers filed an anti-trust case in a Californian court.
“You must have legitimacy,” Bach said Sunday in a two-hour session answering questions from delegates. “You have to be accountable to somebody, and that means you have to be elected.”
Asked about possible changes to Rule 40, Bach advised talking with a national Olympic body or sports federation.
“Then you can negotiate and establish a fair balance between giving and taking,” the IOC president said, cautioning that those national organizations could also rely on protecting their sponsors’ exclusive rights. “The money is not falling from heaven.”
Five-time Olympian Natalie Cook, who represented Australia in beach volleyball, proposed the IOC could pay 1% of its four-yearly revenues into a $50 million retirement fund for athletes.
Bach said the IOC had decided the best way to pay participants was directly funding national Olympic bodies which were “in the best position to decide what they need to do for their athletes.”
“This is sometimes not easy to understand for an individual athlete,” he acknowledged.
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