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IOC resists further calls to change Rule 40, tells athletes to begin NOC negotiations

International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach has resisted further calls to change the organisation’s controversial Rule 40 clause and urged athletes to negotiate directly with their National Olympic Committees (NOCs) if they want to earn marketing freedoms during the Olympic Games.

Rule 40, which limits athletes from working with their own sponsors for the duration of the two weeks of the Summer and Winter Games, is designed to protect the exclusivity of IOC’s Top partnership programme. But a ruling by the German Cartel Office in February deemed that its restrictions were ‘too far-reaching’ and lifted the obligation on German athletes to clear their personal marketing activities with the German Olympic Sports Confederation (DOSB) ahead of the Olympics.

Bach told an audience of athletes at the specially convened event that the IOC would not extend the concessions won by German athletes to athletes worldwide.

“There is no ‘one-size fits all’ solution for this because national laws and relationships between athletes, national federations and NOCs are very different,” he told the gathering.

“What we are doing now is actively contacting NOCs and starting talks advising them of what we agreed after the DOSB negotiated this with the Cartel Office in Germany.”

Bach alluded to the Olympic Solidarity programme which indirectly diverts the IOC’s central sponsorship and media revenues back into athlete development programmes by providing assistance for NOCs. He called on athletes to approach their NOCs to discuss which rights they could exercise and establish ‘a fair balance between giving and taking’.

“My recommendation to you as athlete representatives is that you approach your NOCs or federations and enter into a binding agreement of what are the rights and responsibilities of an athlete,” he said.

The audience for the event was drawn from approved athlete panels in around 185 national Olympic bodies but did not include Global Athlete, the body launched earlier this year to represent athletes around the world.

“We welcome the fact that the IOC is now starting to raise this issue, which has long been on the minds of the overwhelming majority of Olympic athletes,” a spokesperson for Global Athlete told SportBusiness. “This is a first step to recognising the growing mood among the athlete community to have their marketing and commercial rights liberated at an Olympic Games.

“Global Athlete would encourage the IOC to build on this momentum by actively speaking to the National Olympic Committees and, alongside athletes, to find solutions that would unlock their marketing potential at a time when they are crying out for change. Meaningfully engaging athletes can only grow and benefit the Olympic brand.”

Bach’s comments look to be part of a concerted campaign to persuade athletes of the importance of the TOP programme to the development of sport. The organisation released an infographic on Saturday claiming that 90 per cent of IOC revenues were spent on the ‘Olympic Games and athlete development’ and the remaining 10 per cent on ‘IOC operations’.

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