We are slowly getting more clarity on what the position will be next summer for personal sponsors of athletes competing at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. “Rule 40” of the Olympic Charter has previously prohibited athletes from allowing their name and image to be used in advertising during the Games without the consent of the International Olympic Committee (IOC). The IOC recently relaxed Rule 40, allowing athletes to appear in advertising, subject to guidance to be released. (See my previous blog on this here https://adlaw.lewissilkin.net/post/102fn2a/rule-40-have-the-olympians-finally-won).

The IOC issued its guidance to the National Olympic Committees (NOCs) a couple of weeks ago but they were not made public. Only now that the Australian NOC has announced its position do we know what the guidance says.

Effectively it allows ‘business as usual’ advertising while ensuring that brands who support athletes can’t encroach on the “Olympic” exclusivity granted to official Olympic and NOC sponsors.

The key points to note are:

  • Rule 40 will apply for Tokyo 2020 from 14 July 2020 until 11 August 2020 (the “Games Period”)
  • Advertising featuring athletes (or other participants such as coaches and officials) will be permitted during the Games Period subject to the following:
    • The advertising must be generic, ie no Olympic marks, words or team names etc may be used and the only connection to the Games must be the athlete themselves;
    • The advertising must be in market for at least 90 days prior to Games Period;
    • The advertising must not materially escalate during the Games Period; and
    • The brand must make a notification of the advertising to the NOC/IOC prior to 15 May 2020. (There’s no requirement for approval but the IOC/NOC may give comments, which they will do within 10 days).
  • Congratulatory and good luck advertising during the Games Period is not permitted by brands (unless an Olympic partner) as this is deemed not to be generic – it’s intrinsically linked to the Games. It is permitted prior to/after the Games Period provided no Olympic marks/words are used.
  • Athletes can issue a single thank you message to each sponsor per performance at the Games provided it doesn’t link the brand to the performance or amount to a personal endorsement (rather than a simple thank you). Issuing the same message across all social platforms is ok. These messages can’t use images of the athlete at the Games, in team kit or of medals etc, unless the relevant NOC expressly allows this.

This a short summary and it’s really important to note that each NOC can issue further guidance which may depart from the IOC's guidance. As Team GB has not issued its guidance yet, the position in the UK is still not clear. 

There are also some key questions left hanging. For example, if a campaign features multiple Olympians, does that somehow create a link to the Games which moves it out of the ‘generic’ category? In general, however, it looks like this is good news for athletes and their sponsors, and not the worst news for official Olympic sponsors. A balancing act worthy of Nadia Comaneci.