I was trying to decide how to feel about this article: Appalled or thrilled? I have a bit of both feelings based on who the parties are and their positions:
On one side is the track and field athletes, prohibited by the (other side) IOC from even mentioning sponsors that have helped them get to the Olympic Games UNLESS they are also Olympic sponsors. That’s right. OLYMPIC sponsors.
At the heart of the matter is Rule 40, an International Olympic Committee bylaw that prohibits Olympic participants from advertising for non-Olympic sponsors just before and during the Games.
Here‘s Paragraph 3 of the Bye-Law to Rule 40 of the IOC Charter:
Except as permitted by the IOC Executive Board, no competitor, coach, trainer or official who participates in the Olympic Games may allow his person, name, picture or sports performances to be used for advertising purposes during the Olympic Games.
As written, I cannot quarrel with that. But apparently the rule is limited to non-Olympic sponsors. See this quote from the IOC chairman:
In the leadup to the Games, the IOC had definitely made it clear that ambush marketing would be targeted.
“Our position is very clear. We have to protect the sponsors because otherwise there is no sponsorship and without sponsorship there is no games,” President Jacques Rogge said this month.
What’s the result? The result can be: Athletes might not be able to become Olympians:
“The whole (#WeDemandChange) Twitter rants has been an internal discussion we’ve had for years,” [Sanya] Richards-Ross told ESPN.com on Friday. “A lot of athletes in our sport are severely underpaid, hold two or three jobs just to train and stay in the sport, and what pushed me over the edge to get on board and mobilize was just seeing how much money was generated from the Olympic Games.
Of course this won’t prevent the so-called Dream Team or Serena Williams from being Olympic athletes! But it might hinder training or financial sponsorships:
[Leo] Manzano wrote this on his Facebook page: “I am very disappointed in Rule 40 of the USOC 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.”
Now, it is acceptable for NBC to show whatever it wants to during the Games. Any face they want to show.
But, the athletes now want to band together in a “union”? That seems silly to me. Of course they will not strike the Olympics. Too many replacements out there. But their example seems to be the NFL Players Association:
For Richards-Ross, the most obvious example of a productive players’ union is the NFLPA, which includes among its members her husband, Aaron Ross, a cornerback for the Jacksonville Jaguars.
“I’ve seen my husband, who has been in the NFL for six years, and I’ve seen what a strong players’ union does, not only for the benefit of the players but the benefit of the sport,” she said. “And this is global. There are unions in every industry because they need to have that voice, not just for financial reasons but for consideration of other things.
I think the only way the track and field union would be effective is some sort of work stoppage. What other leverage do they have? I agree it is important to protect Olympic sponsors. But I hardly think they are endangered by Facebook pages about tennis shoes. But the attempt to form a real live union is one more example of the professionalization of the Olympic Games. Won’t anybody step back from the abyss? Not as long as billions of dollars are at stake. It’s a shame.