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Australian Olympic Committee loosens Rule 40 restrictions

The Australian Olympic Committee has approved changes to its Rule 40 guidelines, creating greater flexibility for Australian athletes to promote their sponsors during the Olympic Games.

In June, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) amended by-law 3 of Rule 40 in its charter, effectively allowing athletes to associate with their partners during the two-week window of the Games. The organisation had come under pressure to dilute the clause after a ruling by the German cartel office deemed it was “too far reaching” and described it as “abusive conduct”.

At the time, The IOC said National Olympic Committees (NOCs) would be responsible for the implementation of Rule 40 in their respective territories, while taking into consideration their specific applicable legal framework.

After discussion with the AOC Athlete’s Commission, the AOC Executive has now approved supplementary guidelines that set out what athletes and their sponsors can do for the duration of the Games.

A statement from the AOC said athletes’ sponsors can continue ‘business as usual’ campaigns featuring the sponsored athlete during the Games, provided “the campaign does not use Olympic properties” and “the campaign is not escalated during the Games”.

Secondly, it said Australian athletes may now thank their personal sponsors for their support during the Games, provided:

• There is no commercial connection made with the Olympic Games and the sponsor
• The “thank you” doesn’t suggest the sponsor was responsible for the athlete’s performance
• The “thank you” can be issued (across multiple social media platforms) once per performance, including any podium ceremony
• The sponsor cannot congratulate the athlete for their performance

The AOC is one of the first NOCs to update its Rule 40 guidelines – other NOCs around the world could follow its lead.

AOC president and IOC member Jon Coates said the AOC had tried to strike a balance between the need for athletes to benefit commercially from their participation in the Olympics and the need to protect the IOC’s exclusive sponsorship and media agreements.

“The changes recognise the important principle of athlete solidarity,” he said. “The fact that the IOC distributes 90% of its revenues to summer and winter Organising Committees of Olympic Games, International Federations, the 206 National Olympic Committees, the IOC Refugee Team, athletes and athlete programs, makes it possible for many athletes to train for and participate in the Games.

“Without that IOC support made possible by its commercial program including broadcast rights, many athletes from a range of countries would not be in a position to compete.

“Olympic athletes recognise and support that principle of solidarity and it is one of the wonderful features of the Olympic movement.”

“Equally, the IOC has listened to the concerns raised by athletes about the difficulty of realising their Olympic and earning potential imposed by the previous constraints. While the IOC asks for this window of exclusively for a very brief period every four years, these changes provide more opportunity.

“Equally importantly, we are now telling athletes what they can do,” he said.

Speaking at the recent Sports Decision Makers Summit in London, Timo Lumme, managing director, IOC television and marketing services, said the IOC may have to introduce perimeter advertising at its events if Rule 40 continued to be diluted.

Earlier this year, AOC chief executive Matt Carroll told SportBusiness Professional that athlete endorsements were increasingly becoming a major part of the body’s commercial strategy as brands look for ways to maximise their investment into Olympic sports.

“It’s one of the best ways we can help [our partners] to use our brand and image,” Carroll said. “We don’t get access to the Olympics themselves. But what we do have is world-class athletes that we can give them to work with.”