At the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games a series of images were used to embody what is known as the Olympic Spirit. One such image was of Tanzanian Marathon runner John Akwhari who in Mexico in 1968 famously came staggering into the Olympic stadium while everyone was packing up and darkness descended. One lone cameraman caught the images on film and a legend was born.
Once he had finished Akwhari was asked why he had kept going and uttered the famous line, “My country did not send me 5,000 miles to start the race,they sent me 5,000 miles to finish the race.”
When the image appeared a group of sports fans in Sydney wondered what had happened to Akwhari, what is more they wanted to know whether the International Olympic Committee (IOC), who would be making vast sums of money from the event were paying Akwhari any fee for using his image; even though back in 1968 image rights for athletes did not exist. It became a crusade and they found Akwhari brought him to Sydney as a guest, obtained money and the John Stephen Akwhari Athletic Foundation was created. This was set up to supports Tanzanian athletes training for the Olympic Games, and many talented young Tanzanians spent time in Sydney learning computer skills and ran ran in the Sydney City to Surf. However their success in the event upset the locals.
When he was running Akwhari had no manager, even when his career finished he had no management to capitalise on his achievements as an athlete. Today many athletes not only have a manager to find them sponsors but also have individuals managing their Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts. The more followers these athletes obtain, the more money they can generate; even though many of the followers maybe a totally wrong fit in terms or demographics for certain products.
It appears that the IOC learned from Sydney. However once again they may well be facing a legal challenge. This was announced in October of this year. Since then there has been little news as to whether the case will go to court on not.
The German Federal Cartel Office announced it was taking action against the German Olympic Sports Federation (DSOB), indirectly the IOC over Athletes Marketing Rights at the Winter Olympic Games.
The issue in question is Rule 40.3 of the IOC Charter which states, “no competitor who participates in the Olympic Games may allow his person, name, picture or sports performances be used for advertising purposes during the games.” That is apart from by official IOC sponsors.
Some will say that this is a good thing and will spare us some truly cringeworthy advertisements from our top athletes looking to cash in, but does the IOC really have the right to monopolise athletes marketing rights during the Games? This is what the challenge in Germany is about.
The fear for the IOC is if the DSOB lose in Germany other suits will be filed across the globe.
At the time the IOC stated that it would “co-operate in co-ordination with the DSOB,” but to try and find where the case is at the present time is very hard and the Winter Olympics are due to run in PyeongChang from the 9th-25th of February 2018.
There are believed to be many athletes who may be unaware that under the current rules they are not allowed to mention their individual sponsors in anyway during the Olympic Games. A retweet featuring a sponsor, or a careless hashtag could have disastrous consequences. Disqualification being one of the punishments for those who break IOC Rules.
To compete at either the Winter or Summer Olympic Games athletes must recognise the IOC Charter as being the binding rules of the event. This states that they cannot cash in on any success during the Games.
As usual there are huge amounts of money at stake, and the Athletes are secondary.
In the last Olympic cycle from 2013-2016 the IOC made a total of EUR5.5billion from sponsorship.
In the preamble to the case in Germany it has been revealed that the DSOB earned a total revenue of EUR30.5million in 2015, EUR6million came from Marketing. A revenue stream that the IOC takes one fifth of.
So we are talking big money for not only the National Olympic Associations, but also the IOC.
The Olympics are a massive event, and they cost the host cities vast amounts of money. So it is understandable that the IOC should want to protect its sponsorship revenue and also its sponsors, but when it makes so much money from this avenue, should it share some of it with the athletes who have dedicated their lives to an Olympic dream? By that we mean those who do not end up on the podium, as to the victors go the spoils. Post Olympic Games they will be able to cash in and gain financial reward for their successes, but who wants to hear from those who came fourth?
The IOC will argue that they do give back to the National Associations, but how much of that money is seen by the athletes or even the sports that they compete in?
A win for the German Federal Cartel Office could have a more worrying impact. That being that the Games will become completely commercialised. Not only will you have the naming rights Games sponsors but we will also have the individual athletes grabbing every opportunity to promote their supporters and push them into a global market.
There has long been a problem with some of the team sports, who have had a sponsor support their program for four years or more, but who gain no exposure for that support come the Olympic Games as all equipment must be “clean” from sponsors. Yet the traditionalists will applaud this move and try to claim that this keeps the Olympics pure, but does it?
How many athletes will fall prey to the rules in PyeongChang in February? Or will we hear of a settlement in Germany and a loosening of the IOC restrictions before the flame is lit?