Olympic athletes tweet protests to the Rule 40 ban on mentioning sponsors

OPINION - The latest battle of the 2012 London Olympics isn't taking place in an arena, but rather in the corporate board room...

Luther Vandross was outed as gay after his death.

The latest battle of the 2012 London Olympics isn’t taking place in an arena, but rather in the corporate board room. This week, several American Olympic track and field stars engaged in a digital protest via Twitter, Facebook, and personal blogs, protesting the strict demands of Olympic Rule 40, which forbids athletes from promoting their personal sponsors during the Games (and three days after), if those sponsors are not an official partner.

The protests have included several track and field athletes, some of whom have tweeted pictures of themselves with tape over their mouths with “Rule 40” written over it.

Companies like McDonald’s, BMW, and Adidas — all of whom are approved Olympic partners — have paid top dollar to have their brands exposed and well-positioned throughout the games. These brands bought those rights with the promise of near-exclusivity, and should be protected. However, many feel that Rule 40 needs some fine tuning.

One reason: not all categories of sponsors will be affected by the terms and conditions of the rule equally. McDonald’s doesn’t have to worry about an Olympic swimmer being shown on television eating a Whopper poolside. Nor would BMW be concerned about a gymnast’s televised arrival in a Cadillac Escalade. Meanwhile, Adidas gets a product placement advantage that McDonald’s and BMW don’t receive, because after accentuating their ensembles with a few accessories like headbands, wristbands, and socks, Adidas-sponsored athletes will be prime-time mobile billboard ads.

For that reason, the playing field of Rule 40 needs to be leveled.

As it presently stands, Adidas’ competitors are the most unfairly disadvantaged by the guidelines of Rule 40. Adidas might be an official sports partner of the Olympics, but the reality is that athletes believe that their preferred brand empowers them to perform, and therefore to make an Olympic team. Shouldn’t athletes be allowed to continue to associate themselves their sponsors during the Games? One fix for this could be a clause granting certain privileges to competing athletic apparel companies and other sponsors whose products are related to an athlete’s performance.