#Wedemandchange: Amending International Olympic Committee Rule 40 for the Modern Olympic Games

By Ormond, Megan | Journal of Law, Technology and the Internet, Spring 2014 | Go to article overview

#Wedemandchange: Amending International Olympic Committee Rule 40 for the Modern Olympic Games


Ormond, Megan, Journal of Law, Technology and the Internet


INTRODUCTION

Many commentators dubbed the 2012 London Summer Olympic Games ("London Games") the "Twitter Games." (1) With over 150 million Olympic-related Tweets in just sixteen days, the International Olympic Committee ("IOC") basked in the glow of free advertising. (2) Olympic athletes, however, have a bone to pick with the IOC: specifically, IOC Rule 40 ("Rule 40"). Rule 40 states the following:

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. (3)

The United States Olympic Committee ("USOC") has the authority to sanction any athlete that fails to comply Rule 40, including "disqualification from the Games and/or withdrawal of the Participant's accreditation." (4) As seen during the London Games, an act such as posting a photograph of a non-official sponsor's shoe on Twitter is enough to jeopardize an athlete's participation in the Games. (5)

In light of the fact that Olympic athletes are not monetarily compensated for participating in the Games, many argue that Rule 40 serves to prohibit Olympic athletes from capitalizing on their success at the peak of their exposure: the Olympic Games. (6) Olympic athletes are thus limited in their ability to promote their sponsors, many of whom are largely responsible for funding the athletes' year-round training. (7) As U.S. 20-kilometer race walker Maria Mitcha noted, "[B]ecause of rules like Rule 40 and others I could not use the image of myself at Olympic Trials or the title U.S. Olympian in any pictures, posts or Tweets to fundraise money to help pay for my travel expenses...." (8) U.S. javelin thrower Kara Patterson added, "I am honored to be an Olympian... but I can't Tweet about my only sponsor." (9) U.S. 100-meter hurdler Dawn Harper went so far as to Tweet an image of herself with duct tape covering her mouth that read "Rule 40," making her opinion of Rule 40 shockingly clear. (10)

Unsurprisingly, Rule 40 has become the subject of criticism from athletes and commentators alike. (11) Olympic gold medalist Sanya Richards-Ross spearheaded the movement against Rule 40 with one strongly worded Tweet: #WeDemandChange. (12) As the backlash from Rule 40 continues, the IOC faces the task of either amending Rule 40 or risking continued criticism from athletes that, in turn, may affect the success of the Games. (13) In the age of social media, specifically, the increased use of Twitter, the time to amend Rule 40 is now, before it undoubtedly generates even more controversy.

I. IOC RULE 40 & SOCIAL MEDIA GUIDELINES

A. The Purpose of Rule 40

Although Rule 40 is no new addition to the Olympic Charter, social media such as Twitter and Facebook has re-defined its scope and application. Traditionally, Rule 40 protected official Olympic sponsors by safeguarding against ambush marketing, i.e., the practice of non-official Olympic sponsors engaging in unauthorized association and commercialization of the Games. (14) Accordingly, the IOC maintains that Rule 40 serves "to protect against ambush marketing; prevent unauthorized commercialization of the Games; and to protect the integrity of the athletes' performance at the Games ...." (15) While preventing athletes from appearing in television or print advertisements during the Games is a legitimate interest of the IOC, many argue that Rule 40 overreaches its boundaries by significantly limiting what athletes may post on their personal Twitter accounts.

B. Social Media Guidelines

In an effort to ensure that athletes fully appreciate the parameters of Rule 40, the IOC provides athletes with Social Media Guidelines ("Guidelines") that detail the scope and application of Rule 40. (16) In general, "the IOC encourages all social media activity... provided that it is not for commercial and/or advertising purposes. …

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