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Athletes worldwide are calling for changes to Olympic "Rule 40"

Following a recent ruling in Germany that eased restrictions on how athletes can market themselves during the Olympics, athletes gathered in Norway to advocate for more changes to the International Olympic Committee's "Rule 40."

In February, German authorities held that existing competition laws mean the IOC and the German Olympic Sports Confederation need to give athletes more leeway for promotional activities during the Olympic Games. This month, athletes joined anti-doping leaders at a meeting in Oslo to discuss potentially relaxing the IOC's long-standing "Rule 40" restrictions on marketing.

The impact of Rule 40 on athletes

“Rule 40” refers to Rule 40, paragraph 3 of the Olympic Charter, which states:

“Except as permitted by the IOC Executive Board, no competitor, coach, trainer or official who participates in the Olympic Games may allow his person, name, picture or sports performances to be used for advertising purposes during the Olympic Games.”

The rule has long acted as a massive hurdle for athletes who depend on the visibility the Games provide for their sponsorship deals. Athletes are even prohibited from using more basic terms that could be associated with the Olympics, such as the following list from the Pyeongchang Games in 2018:

  • Gold
  • Silver
  • Bronze
  • Medal
  • Effort
  • Performance
  • Challenge
  • Games
  • Victory
  • Olympian

Athletes who gathered in Oslo this spring seek to have Rule 40 relaxed to allow them more freedom to endorse sponsors (who often help them reach the Olympics) and freely express themselves on social media.

Unfortunately for many of the world's Olympic athletes, the decision to relax advertising rules currently only applies to German athletes. However, the recent meeting may mean a turning of the tide.

Bringing athletes into the fold

Some see the involvement of athletes in discussions of these rules as part of a shift “towards greater athlete representation and rights within sports governance.” As athletes continue to advocate for more rights over their advertisement opportunities, they benefit from the guidance of legal counsel who understand their unique needs.

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