U.S. athletes launch Twitter protest against sponsor ban
The IOC says its policy of only allowing promotion of Olympic sponsors is intended to 'protect the money that comes into the Olympic movement.'
Mon, Jul 30, 2012 at 11:16 AM
RUNNING FOR CHANGE: Sanya Richards-Ross at the 2012 IAAF World Indoor Athletics Championships in March. Richards-Ross is leading the charge to give individual athletes' sponsors more of a profile at the Olympics. (Photo: Adrian Dennis/AFP)
LONDON — Sanya Richards-Ross and a host of U.S. stars have launched a Twitter protest against International Olympic Committee rules banning sponsor promotions around the Olympics to protect IOC backers.
"I am honored to be an Olympian but We Demand Change," was the phrase tweeted by numerous athletes to protest Rule 40, the IOC directive banning athletes from appearing for personal sponsors during the timing of the Games.
"We definitely don't want to start a war," Richards-Ross said on July 30. "I'm definitely not forecasting more Twitter revolts or an uprising of the athletes."
But the Jamaican-born sprint star, trying for double gold in the 200-meter and 400-meter races, said the Internet campaign was only the start of actions aimed at backing the people and organization who fund their gold medal quests when the world is not paying attention.
"Maybe I shouldn't have said 'the start,' but we wanted to get the issue out there," she said. "We just wanted to do something to get our voices heard. We're campaigning about the bigger issue — the Olympic ideal and the Olympic reality are now different.
"Six billion dollars is trading hands around these games while so many of my peers are struggling to stay in the sport. It's a global issue and it's an issue that is important to us. This is our only platform."
Others backing the move include Doc Patton, Nick Symmonds, Dawn Harper, Leo Manzano, Lashinda Demus, Lauryn Williams, Khadevis Robinson, Jessica Cosby, Ryan Whiting, Brad Walker, Trey Hardee and Aries Merritt.
Some have been forced to take down photographs of their shoes from Facebook sites. Others are unable to tweet about their sponsor deals at this time or they face expulsion from the Olympics as well as financial penalties.
The IOC is protecting such major sponsors as Visa, Coca-Cola and McDonald's by restricting Olympians from appearing in what could be called "ambush" advertising during the time of the Games when global attention is focused.
"That rule 40 only lasts for about a month from the time the Olympic Village is opened, so those athletes lucky enough to have a high-profile sponsor can work with them throughout the four years," IOC communications chief Mark Adams said.
"They have one month where they can't actually do that. What I would say is that we are trying to help those athletes who don't have the high-profile sponsors.
"We're trying to protect the money that comes into the Olympic movement and 94 percent of it is redistributed to sport. I think one month where we ask people not to bring in all sorts of other sponsors is entirely the right thing to do."
Richards-Ross says that denying athlete sponsors the benefits of linkage during the moments they help finance discourages them from supporting such quests for gold at a time when athletes struggle to keep the dream alive.
"A lot of our peers have second and third jobs to stay in the sport," she said. "People see the Olympics for the two weeks. They don't see the 3 1/2 years of work going into it.
"We understand the IOC are protecting these sponsors. We want to have a voice in that as well."
Adams suggested athletes seeking change work to be elected to the IOC's athletes commission to try and create change from within.
"We absolutely would not stop the athletes from making their views known and some small groups have made their views known, a small group of high-profile athletes," Adams said.
"But I think the huge number of the 10,500 athletes who are here would understand why we're doing this."
Copyright 2012 AFP Global Edition