Olympians Take Sponsorship Protest Social to Demand Change

Last year I praised the International Olympic Committee for their forward thinking policy around social media at this year’s London games. The straightforward policy sets out rules that I think are fair while still being restrictive enough to give the IOC control over the brand everyone in the world talks about for a few weeks every four years. And considering how tightly they control the image in other settings, the policy becomes even more understandable.

But there is another rule Olympic athletes must adhere to, Rule 40, that’s become a hot topic in the Olympic conversation on and offline. Simply put, Rule 40 limits Olympic athletes from mentioning their sponsors unless they are Top IOC partners (aka advertisers).

So the athletes face the predicament of having the chance to talk about their Olympic experience, but not be able to mention the people who helped get them there, which they say limits their freedom of speech. The hashtag #wedemandchange popped upon Twitter from several notable names who are understandably pissed about the restrictions. Of course those sponsors have a lot to gain from being tied with Olympic stars, but the athletes would certainly want to thank those who made it possible for them to be there.

Let’s be clear. Most Olympic athletes don’t even have sponsors. They work AND train, showing phenomenal commitment to their athletic goals while still bringing home their own bacon. For every Michael Phelps there are dozens who have to pursue their dreams on their own dime.

Social media–Twitter specifically–has already done in athletes who were booted from the games by their National Olympic Committees for racist commentary. Maintaining sportsmanship is one thing, but the Games are already an unparalleled spectacle of sponsorship, so letting athletes thank their own supporters won’t take anything away from the Visa’s and Citi’s of the world.

In this week’s New Yorker, Phelps’ agent Peter Carlisle said “The moment people realize how funding works, it would be a major problem for the Olympic movement. The billions of dollars that cycle through the Games, you’d be shocked how little of it gets to the athletes.” Looks like the word is finally getting out.


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