Should athletes in London be able to promote their non-Olympic sponsors?
LONDON — Money is probably not a worry for Sanya Richards-Ross. She has endorsement deals with BMW and Nike and is married to Jacksonville Jaguars cornerback Aaron Ross.
But there are restrictions on what Richards-Ross and other Olympians can promote at the London Games. That has upset some competitors, who want organizers to change the policy — especially to help athletes without sponsorship deals.
University of Oregon runner Nick Symmonds has been especially vocal, raising the issue in many media interviews following the Olympic trials in Eugene.
Last winter, he auctioned his bicep for a temporary advertising tattoo. It's something he can't do during the Olympics.
"I am prepared to put @ilovejustin bieber on my arm," he told KGW, " I reserve the right to approve what goes on my shoulder."
American sprinter Richards-Ross said “I’ve been very fortunate to do very well around the Olympics, but so many of my peers struggle in this sport. And I just think it’s unjust.”
Richards-Ross, who also sells autographed photos and posters on her website, was among the athletes taking part in a Twitter campaign, using the hashtags “WeDemandChange2012” and “Rule40.”
Rule 40 is the International Olympic Committee policy barring Olympic athletes from using their names or likenesses for non-Olympic sponsor advertising during the games. The rule is in effect from July 18 through Aug. 15, three days after the closing ceremony.
The IOC says it pours 94 percent of its commercial revenue back into sports, that it is only trying to protect the money that comes into the Olympic movement.
“A huge number of 10,500 athletes who are here would understand why we are doing this,” spokesman Mark Jones said. “For one month, we ask them not to endorse products not related to the Olympics that don’t actually give money back to the movement.”
Sponsorship is everywhere at the Olympics — but official sponsors only.
Richards-Ross spoke at a U.S. Track and Field news conference in the Main Press Centre at Olympic Park, where someone setting up the room neatly arranged bottles of Coca-Cola and Powerade on the dais.
A banner at a park entrance reads: “There would be no goosebumps, gasps, pounding hearts, tears of joy, records smashed, strangers hugged or a whole world brought together without” followed by the logos of McDonald’s, adidas and Procter & Gamble.
That may explain why U.S. flagbearer and fencing gold medalist Mariel Zagunis was allowed to post this to her social media accounts: “Big thanks to P&G for taking care of my mom when she flew in early to watch me carry the flag in the Opening Ceremony!”
P&G has a facility in London to host families of U.S. athletes, offering food, drink, laundry and salon services. U.S. Olympic Committee spokesman Patrick Sandusky said a comment like Zagunis’ is permissible if the sponsor has requested a waiver from the USOC on the IOC’s behalf.
Richards-Ross said only 2 percent of American athletes can tweet about their sponsors because they have USOC or IOC sponsors.
With the games generating billions of dollars, “Athletes just want to be considered,” she said.
“The Olympic reality and the Olympic ideal ... right now are different.”