BERLIN (Reuters) - German athletes and their sponsors scored a major victory over the International Olympic Committee (IOC) on Wednesday, earning more possibilities to advertise during the Tokyo 2020 Olympics following an easing of restrictions.
The German Cartel Office said on Wednesday the IOC and the German Olympic Sports Confederation (DOSB) were subject to existing competition laws and would need to grant more rights for promotional activities ahead of and during the Games.
Athletes competing at the Olympics have been severely restricted in commercial advertising and promotion activities.
The IOC charter rule 40 states that “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.”
This was long a major problem for the vast majority of athletes who depend heavily on their visibility during the Olympics every four years to generate sponsorship and advertising revenues.
“We ensure that the advertising opportunities of German athletes and their sponsors during the Olympic Games, which the DOSB and IOC significantly restricted in the past, are extended,” Cartel Office President Andreas Mundt said in a statement following the completion of administrative proceedings that started in 2017.
“While athletes are the key figures of Olympic Games, they cannot benefit directly from the IOC’s high advertising revenue generated with official Olympic sponsors. However, as the games mark the height of their sporting careers, self-marketing during the games plays a very important role.”
Among the changes are that advertising activities planned for during the Olympics no longer need to be cleared by the DOSB beforehand.
They can also include some terms such as “medal, gold, silver, bronze, winter or summer games.”
It is now also permitted to use certain photographs taken during the Games, while athletes are allowed to use social media more freely during the Olympic Games.
“With its decision, the German Cartel Office recognised that there are legitimate reasons for restricting individual athletes’ advertising opportunities in order to ensure the ongoing organisation of the Olympic Games,” the IOC said in a statement.
“At the same time, any implementation of Rule 40 at the national level necessarily has to take all applicable laws and regulations as well as pertinent case law into account, in this instance, particular German case law.”
While this decision applies only for German athletes it is expected that more athletes from other countries, especially from the European Union, will demand similar changes.
“Currently only German athletes can enjoy the advertisement opportunities and not other European athletes, even if they would like to do advertisements directed to the German market,” lawyer Mark Orth, who represented athletes in this case, told Reuters.
“I regard that discrimination as a violation of European competition law. The Cartel Office has applied European competition law to the case and can therefore not limit the benefits of its action to German athletes.”
The IOC, whose Rule 40 has been aimed at protecting the rights of its own Olympic sponsors who contribute billions of dollars to the organisation of the Games, had already somewhat eased restrictions at the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.
That came after the Cartel Office had launched its administrative proceedings for “suspected abuse of a dominant position against the DOSB and the IOC.”
Reporting by Karolos Grohmann; Editing by Amlan Chakraborty and Christian Radnedge