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USOPC updates Rule 40 guidance to give athletes more marketing freedom

The United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee (USOPC) has updated its Rule 40 marketing guidelines for athletes, giving them greater freedom to associate with sponsors during Olympic and Paralympic events.

Rule 40 is the controversial clause written into the Olympic charter that limits how athletes work with their personal sponsors for the two-week duration of the Games and is designed to protect the exclusivity of the Olympic Partner Programme (TOP).

The International Olympic Committee has come under pressure to loosen the clause after a ruling by the German cartel office in February determined that it was ‘too far-reaching’ and should be subject to competition laws in the country. After the ruling, the IOC softened its Rule 40 stance, saying National Olympic Committees (NOCs) would be responsible for implementing the clause in their respective territories while taking into consideration their specific applicable legal frameworks.

The updated USOPC guidance was written in collaboration with the IOC, International Paralympic Committee, the USOPC’s Athlete Advisory Council (AAC) and the National Governing Bodies Council (NGBC), along with input from domestic sponsors. The guidelines include the following key points:

• Athletes are now able to thank personal sponsors during the Games
• Athletes are now able to receive congratulatory messages from personal sponsors during the Games
• Athlete personal sponsors are now able to engage in generic advertising during the Games.
• Official partners maintain continued exclusivity around Team USA and Games marks and imagery
• Official partners receive increased ambush protection through the introduction of a Personal Sponsor Commitment
• All existing partner benefits related to timing and support of USOPC partner staff continue.

Although the changes will provide companies with greater freedom to associate with Olympic athletes, they also appear to offer greater protections to official Team USA sponsors. Under the new guidelines, athletes will be asked to register their sponsors with the USOPC and these sponsors will be required to sign a ‘Personal Sponsor Commitment’. It is thought this will put the USOPC in a stronger position to block or win damages for a rights violation. Previously, the only course of action available for a Rule 40 infringement was to ban the athlete in question.

USOPC chief executive Sarah Hirshland said: “We are sharing an updated Rule 40 guidance that embraces the athlete perspective while honoring the critical support USOPC, IOC and IPC partners provide for the Olympic and Paralympic movements.

“We worked to create a guidance that increases athlete marketing opportunities and, importantly, respects Rule 40 and affirms our commitment to providing value to our partners, and maintains funding and participation pathways for Team USA, and athletes around the world.”

Han Xiao, chair of the USOPC’s AAC said: “This updated Rule 40 guidance for Tokyo 2020 represents a really positive step for athlete marketing rights and is the result of a positive collaboration between the AAC, NGBC and the USOPC.”

The USOPC is the latest NOC to update its Rule 40 guidelines ahead of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. In July, the Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) also approved supplementary guidance for its athletes which gave them greater flexibility to promote their sponsors during the Games.

The IOC warns that any move to grant athletes too much marketing power could undermine the TOP programme which diverts funds to help athletes, Organising Committees of the Olympic Games and sports organisations around the world.

Speaking at July’s 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.

To download the full USOPC guidelines, click here.

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