SBD/July 31, 2012/Olympics

U.S. Track & Field Athletes Lead Revolt Against IOC's Rule 40 Restrictions On Sponsorship

Richards-Ross said many of her peers struggle to secure funding
The resentment among U.S. Track & Field athletes regarding the IOC's Rule 40 has "boiled over," according to Jon Saraceno of USA TODAY. The athletes have "launched a public campaign against what they think is a restrictive, income-eliminating IOC policy regarding 'ambush marketers' that bans mention of individual, non-official Olympic sponsors during what amounts to a one-month blackout period -- but also when worldwide exposure is at its maximum peak." U.S. high jumper Jamie Nieto yesterday said, "We're professional athletes, and we don't like being treated like we're amateur athletes." Saraceno notes athletes are "not permitted to publicly acknowledge or endorse their personal sponsors" during the blackout period, including the posting of "photographs thanking sponsors, most notably, but not excluding, on social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook." U.S. distance runner Leo Manzano last weekend "was directed by the IOC to remove a photograph of his running shoes from Facebook." That prompted "more dissatisfaction from within the ranks of his teammates -- and the decision to go public after they convened." Saraceno notes "not every U.S. athlete agrees with the protest." Beach volleyball player Todd Rogers said while he would "love to be able to wear my Red Bull hat" during competition, he sees the "bigger picture." He added, "We don't have an event if we don't have the major Olympic sponsors." But U.S. sprinter Sanya Richards-Ross said, "This is not just a USA issue -- it's a global issue." She later backed off a bit when she said, "We definitely don't want to start a war or start too much trouble. We just want to come out here and run well. I'm definitely not forecasting more Twitter rants or a big coming together and uprising of the athletes" (USA TODAY, 7/31). PBS' Tom Hudson noted some smaller Olympic sports are "struggling to stay alive," but "Olympiad-type of products and prices come with Olympic restrictions as well” (“NBR,” PBS, 7/30).

ATHLETES SPEAK OUT: Richards-Ross has sponsorship deals with BMW, BP, Nike and Citi, but in London, Jerome Taylor notes she "fears that many of her colleagues are being priced out of athletics by the rules." She said, "I've been very fortunate to do very well around the Olympics, but so many of my peers struggle in this sport. And I just think it's unjust." She added, "People see the Olympics, they see the two weeks when athletes are at their best. It's the most glorious time in their lives, but they don't see the three or four years leading up to the Olympic Games when a lot of my peers are struggling to stay in the sport. The majority of track and field athletes don't have sponsors and don't have support to stay in the sport. A lot have second and third jobs to do this" (London INDEPENDENT, 7/31). YAHOO SPORTS' Martin Rogers noted U.S. race walker Maria Michta "gave a heartfelt and eloquent description of how the regulations have affected her." Michta wrote on her personal blog, "I have no big brand corporate sponsor who gives me free gear, pays me a salary and gives me a bonus for making it to events like the Olympics. 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, every donation on my website. Those are the sponsors that I represent." She added, "Because of rules like Rule 40 and others I could not use the image of myself at Olympic Trials or the title U.S. Olympian in any pictures, posts or tweets to fundraise money to help pay for my travel expenses and get my family ... over to London to watch me compete" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 7/30).

RAISE YOUR VOICE: In N.Y., Ken Belson cited advertising experts as saying that the issue has "created attention precisely because the Summer Olympics occur once every four years." Social media outlets like Twitter "have given athletes and by extension their sponsors a voice that they did not have before." In sports like track and field, the Olympics "are one of the best opportunities for athletes to reach a global audience." Chicago-based ad agency Tris3ct President Tim Nelson said the restrictions are “30 days every four years, but the athletes are living 365 days, and they’re not going to derail their long-term relationships." But Nelson asked, “Without the Olympics, would track and field be commercially viable?" (N.Y. TIMES, 7/31). In K.C., Sam Mellinger writes the athletes' point "is impossible to argue against, except with the kind of corporate greed that’s especially offensive coming from an International Olympics Committee that pretends to be so pure." Mellinger: "The athletes can’t put sponsor stickers on their uniforms? Fine. But for the IOC to prohibit them from thanking sponsors on personal social media accounts? Richards-Ross is being polite when she calls it 'an injustice.' Here, we see the IOC exposed as a cold goliath actively limiting its already volunteer workforce’s ability to make ends meet" (K.C. STAR, 7/31).
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