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Lumme says IOC may have to introduce perimeter advertising if Rule 40 continues to be diluted

Timo Lumme, the man responsible for sale of the International Olympic Committee’s sponsorship rights, has said the organisation may have to introduce perimeter advertising at the Olympic Games if its controversial Rule 40 clause continues to be diluted.

Rule 40 is written into the Olympic Charter to protect the exclusivity of the IOC’s TOP partner programme. It prevents athletes from aligning themselves with their personal sponsors during the Olympic Games because this would contradict the messaging of the IOC’s official partners.

The IOC has had problems enforcing the rule since the dawn of social media and has had to gradually loosen the scope of its restrictions. A recent ruling by Germany’s cartel office described Rule 40 as “too far reaching” and “abusive conduct” and called on the IOC to grant more promotional rights to athletes.

But the IOC argues that the any move to grant athletes more marketing power would undermine the TOP programme which diverts funds to help athletes, Organising Committees of the Olympic Games and sports organisations around the world.

Lumme, managing director, IOC television and marketing services, said this might force the IOC to allow sponsor branding to appear during the Games in order to protect the value of the programme to potential partners. The IOC currently has a ‘clean-venue’ policy, which stipulates that not even TOP partner branding can be visible in Olympic venues during the Games.

Speaking at the Sports Decision Makers Summit in London, he said: “If you were to give total freedom to athletes, which would potentially break our model of solidarity and our funding model, perhaps we would have to go to perimeter board advertising.”

He argued that the IOC needed to communicate the benefits of this solidarity model more clearly to persuade athletes of the need for marketing restrictions.

“Internally, within our structure, just because of the way we’re politically structured, we haven’t enabled ourselves to show the full force of what the Olympic movement does in terms of redistributing 90 per cent of its revenues.

“We’re not like a pro-league where half of the revenues goes on salaries, or prize money. 90 per cent goes back into sport – if you have 11,500 athletes in the summer games, between five to ten per cent of those will actually only be there because of specific direct grants that are through our programme.”

The IOC is increasingly having to contend with calls from athletes for enhanced rights and changes to the way it runs the Olympic Games. In February, a new athlete-led organisation, Global Athlete, launched with a remit “to balance the power between athletes and sports administrators”.

In a later session at the SDMS conference, the new organisation’s Athlete Lead, cyclist and Olympic champion Callum Skinner, fired a warning to the IOC.

“There is a lot of money in the Olympic Games, more money than there has ever been before. How much do the athletes get from the IOC in the form of any prize or appearance money? Zero. Absolutely nothing. I appreciate the days of amateur sport, the pride of competing at the Olympics for your nation is plentiful, but in many ways that good will that athletes have towards the IOC, towards their nation and towards their team is waning.”

Referencing the growth in IOC media revenues from $402m at the time of the 1988 Seoul Olympics to $2.8bn at the time of the 2016 Rio Summer Games, Skinner called for a greater share to be diverted towards athletes.

“A recent study showed that 6 per cent of the money generated by the Olympics goes back towards athlete salaries,” he said. “The rest is spent by the IOC and athlete bodies as they see fit. In contrast, Premier League footballers pocket over half of their clubs’ revenues. Surely it is not right for athletes to have no direct share of that income.

“The now-famous Rule 40 has further stressed athletes’ finances. In the UK, if you were selected for the [summer] Olympic Games, you cannot promote a personal sponsor in any way, including by using phrases such as ‘summer’ for a week prior, two weeks during, and a week after the Games. It varies from country to country and some are even more restrictive.”

SportBusiness has written a series of articles examining player power and the athlete movement. To read these articles, click here.