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Athletes must guard their intellectual property

By Peter Gacheru | Aug 14th 2021 | 2 min read

Gold Medalist Peris Chepchirchir, Silver Medalist Brigid Kosgei and Marathoner Lawrence Cherono arrive at JKIA from Tokyo on August 13, 2021.[Jonah Onyango,Standard]

At the beginning of the Tokyo Summer Olympics, the National Olympic Committee issued an advisory against unauthorised use of Olympic properties. A similar advisory was reportedly issued in the US.

In Kenya, the advisory was received with mixed reactions by a section of Kenyans on social media, with many questioning who owned those properties. The Olympic Games and Movement are governed by the Olympic Charter. By participating in the games, all participants and officials must adhere to the rules.

On marketing, participants are required to comply with Rule 40 and 50 of the Olympic Charter.

Rule 50 prohibits any form of advertising in the competition venues. It further prohibits advertising or propaganda on persons’ sportswear, accessories or equipment. This is the reason there is zero branding on the field of play or athletes’ clothing.

Rule 40 regulates how an athlete can allow his person, image, or sports performance be exploited for commercial purposes during the Olympic games. Several of our top sportsmen and women do have individual sponsorship contracts that grant sponsors rights they can exploit commercially. 

In general, Rule 40 restricts commercial rights to Olympic partners unless the athletes’ sponsors have been in partnership for a reasonable period before the games and are running a generic advertising campaign. 

A generic campaign is one that has been in the market for at least 90 days before the Games Period, and which is run consistently and not materially escalated during the Games Period. Such generic campaigns cannot refer to the Olympic games or their performance thereof. However, this is subject to the IOC being notified 60 days earlier.

On August 9, Uasin Bolt the 100m World record holder put out a post: “A lot of athletes sought support from cooperate Jamaica in their preparation leading up and heading to Olympic Games and got NO HELP. Athletes know your Worth/Power now that they all want to jump onto your Brand/Image for free.”

Corporates ignore various requests to support teams and athletes during preparation just to jump on the tail end to issue congratulatory messages. This is not acceptable.

It is worth noting that these requests for sponsorships are not merely requests for donations but come with tangible benefits for those who come on board. Hence one has to wonder why corporates are too happy to pay for advertising space while similar budgets would have given them the same mileage if not more if were spent on the teams.

It is time individual athletes rose and sued those violating the use of their images and likeness. Just like a farmer protects his crop, sportsmen and women must do everything possible to protect their income streams. 

Peter Gacheru is Sports marketing consultant, IMG Kenya LTD

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