The protest kicked off yesterday (29 July) when members of the US track and field team including Olympic 100m hurdles champion Dawn Harper called for the restrictions to be relaxed.
She tweeted: “I am honoured to be an Olympian but #wedemandchange #rule 40.”
The tweet was accompanied by a picture of a group of her team mates in a meeting room. Other US Olympians including 400m gold-medal favourite Sanya Richards-Ross echoed the message and urged officials to reconsider Rule 40, which forbids athletes from taking part in any non-Olympic sponsor endorsements during a Summer Games.
US 1500m runner Leo Manzano also joined the protest after being told to remove a photograph of his footwear from his Facebook site.
He wrote on his Facebook page: “I am very disappointed in Rule 40 of the USOC(US Olympic Comittee) as I just had to take down my picture of my shoes and comments about their performance. This rule is very distracting to us athletes, and it takes away from our Olympic experience and training. #WeNeedChange Track & Field Athletes Assocaition Austin Track Club.”
The rule is one of several strict guidelines set by organisers to protect the exclusivity rights of sponsors such as Coca-Cola, Visa and McDonald’s and prevents ambush stunts from rival non-sponsors. It means that athletes are prevented from endorsing their individual sponsors throughout the event.
Athletes found in breach of the laws could be fined and disqualified from the Games, although this has never happened.
The terms of Rule 40 read: “Ambush marketers have, in the past, used their association with athletes to suggest or imply that they have an association with the Olympic Games. This undermines the exclusivity that Organising Committees can offer official Games and Team sponsors, without whose investment the Games could not happen.”
Additionally, the organising committee has put together a detailed social media and blogging policy for athletes, so they don’t fall foul of regulations.
The protest is likely to bring concerns around the strict Olympic branding laws into sharper focus, coming just weeks after organisers moved to downplay the role of advertising and trading legislation experts in protecting the rights of sponsors.
A spokeswoman for the IOC says the organisation will talk to USOC and “rely on them to reach out to the athletes on this matter.”
She adds: “Corporate sponsorship provides essential support for competing athletes and contributes to the overall success of the Games. Put simply, without the support of our official commercial partners, the Games would not be able to happen.”