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Volume 20 No. 45
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Rule 40 waivers in play for ’18 Winter Games

The Olympics’ new rules granting non-sponsors limited permission to advertise with Olympians during the Games will survive in their present form for the 2018 cycle, the first time winter athletes will see a change.

Last week, both the International Olympic Committee and U.S. Olympic Committee published guidance for obtaining new waivers to Rule 40 of the Olympic Charter, which threatens to disqualify athletes if they appear in unapproved advertisements. The updates maintain the status quo for the waiver system, first used during the 2016 Rio Games.

To apply for Pyeongchang, non-sponsors must submit proposed creative to the USOC by Aug. 1 for inspection, and if they obtain permission, their campaigns must stay in market from Oct. 1 through the end of the February Olympics.

The waiver system is a delicate balancing act between official corporate partners that paid for exclusivity and athletes, who had long complained that the ban hurt their ability to maximize their value when attention on their sports peaked.

In a statement, USOC Chief Marketing Officer Lisa Baird said executives are happy to see the system continue for 2018.

“The IOC’s updated guidance prior to the Rio Games opened up additional opportunities for many American athletes, while allowing us to educate our constituents about the value of corporate partnerships to Team USA and the importance of protecting those partners from the harmful practice of ambush marketing,” she said.

University of South Carolina sports law professor John Grady said the status quo is proof sponsors didn’t revolt en masse last year.

“Athletes still think it’s not far enough, and official sponsors, probably off the record, think it’s gone too far,” Grady said. “The Olympic organizers, in not changing the rules, they think they’ve found the proper balance. I think given all the competing interests, I think they have found it.”

In some ways, the relaxation of Rule 40 is a major evolution for the Olympic movement, long known for its aggressive protection of its intellectual property. But in 2016, only a handful of high-profile companies such as Under Armour and Red Bull took advantage, most likely because of the early deadlines and strict review applied by the USOC. The USOC has never said how many waivers it granted or rejected in 2016.

Waiver-compliant campaigns must steer clear of any reference to the Olympics, making it difficult for athletes who aren’t already famous to stand out as spokespeople. The USOC’s guidance notes that the waiver is intended to “enable continuation of in-market generic advertising” featuring Olympians.

In its guidance, the USOC said it would manage the waiver system online and include an archive system to ensure a timely response to requests.