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SBD/September 24, 2012/OlympicsPrint All
Track and field athletes from the U.S. and abroad on Friday announced that they “are unionizing,” in part to “fight a rule against promoting private sponsors, achieve collective bargaining and seek prize money in the Olympics,” according to Melissa Isaacson of ESPN.com. Some of the “biggest names in the sport, including Americans Sanya Richards-Ross and Bernard Lagat and Jamaican stars Usain Bolt and Yohan Blake, are part of a movement that gained momentum during the London Games.” At the heart of the matter is Rule 40, an IOC bylaw that "prohibits Olympic participants from advertising for non-Olympic sponsors just before and during the Games.” U.S. middle-distance runner and Track & Field Athletes Association President Khadevis Robinson said that while his group -- which “expanded to international athletes on Friday -- took its lead from player unions in other sports, athletes are not planning to assert their leverage with work stoppages.” Robinson said, "We don't foresee even discussing things like strikes. We don't want that. That's not our purpose." Robinson said the move was prompted by the realization "our names are our brand." He said the group created a mission statement and formed a legalized union since "we were not able to represent our brands in the way it should be done." Robinson: "When the general public sees Olympic sponsors, they don't know that doesn't necessarily mean there's a trickle-down to athletes." The athletes said that the “apparent lack of transparency … will be among the first matters they address with the IOC and national governing bodies.” USOC CEO Scott Blackmun said, "I understand the desire and need on the part of the athletes to try and create some real estate they can sell during the 16 days they're really at the peak of their careers, so I am sympathetic to the need and desire to do that" (ESPN.com, 9/21).
GOING THE DISTANCE: In Toronto, Cathal Kelly wrote the movement to unionize “has legs.” Discontent with the IOC rules has resulted in a “growing, internationalizing labour movement that could finally win for athletes what no sporting union has managed since Curtis Flood and/or Carl Brewer: widespread public support.” There currently has been “no talk of work stoppages -- that is, in athletes boycotting an Olympics.” Kelly: “But just wait” (TORONTO STAR, 9/22).