All eyes are on the Olympics, and by default, on ads for Coca-Cola, McDonalds and Ralph Lauren. And billions of dollars in ad revenue is changing hands.
The debate over whether Olympic athletes should share in the wealth is not a new one. The years of training, equipment and travel expenses are a hardship for those with the dedication to qualify. Now athletes lucky enough to have a corporate sponsor are speaking out against Rule 40, the section of the Olympic Charter that forbids them from promoting their sponsors through tweeting, blogging, or displaying logos or symbols during the Olympics.
According to sprinter Sanya Richards-Ross, only 2% of Team U.S.A. are allowed to acknowledge their sponsors, because they are Olympic sponsors as well. Richards-Ross and a number of her fellow athletes have been tweeting about this issue under the hashtag #WeDemandChange #rule40, and spoke about it at a news conference Monday.
Others have been both vocal and innovative: runner Nick Symmonds, a critic of the Olympic ad prohibition, auctioned off space on his arm and raised over $11,000 for wearing the logo of a design & marketing company. In compliance with Rule 40, he’ll cover the logo with tape when he competes in London.
Corporate sponsors shell out big bucks for exclusivity at the Olympics, and understandably don’t want to share the real estate. But as Richards-Ross and others argue, many athletes struggle to realize their Olympic dreams. Allowing them to court their own sponsors, they say, would lift all boats.
Should athletes be allowed to promote their sponsors at the games? Should they be paid for participating, as some have suggested? Or is the glory of representing their country in the world’s most prominent arena its own reward?
Paul Swangard, Woodard Family Foundation Fellow and Managing Director, Warsaw Sports Marketing Center, University of Oregon