German Athletes Lead Olympic Rethink On Advertising Restrictions

2019-03-08 Reading Time: 3 minutes

German athletes, their representatives and the national Cartel Office have forced a big shift in the tectonics of Olympic sport in favour of athletes and athlete rights.

A legal ruling in Germany has dramatically scaled back the advertising restrictions placed on athletes by the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) Rule 40.

The case was won by the Federal Association of the German Sports Goods Industry, the German athletes group Athleten Deutschland and two athletes.

As a result, the Bundeskartellamt – the German Federal Cartel Office has received “commitment” from both the IOC and the German Olympic Sports Confederation (DOSB) that current restrictions on athletes, including rights to images and demands that athletes make no gain from wearing the logos of sponsors they get direct benefit from (including use of terms such as “medal, gold, silver, bronze, winter or summer games” on social media alongside their own images) but are not Official Olympic partners are no longer sustainable nor do they comply with national laws.

The Cartel Office brought its case on grounds of “suspected abuse of a dominant position against the DOSB (the German Olympic Committee) and the IOC.”

While the decision applies only for German athletes it is expected that more athletes from other countries, especially from the European Union, will demand similar changes.

Lawyer Mark Orth, who represented athletes in the German 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.”

Rule 40.3 of the Olympic Charter spells out that “no competitor, team official or other team personnel 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”.

Reuters, the international agency, reported that among the changes forced by the German action are that advertising activities planned for during the Olympics no longer need to be cleared by the DOSB beforehand.

The new rules will make the list of banned Olympic terminology “considerably smaller” and will apply to advertising and social media platforms.

Terms such as “medal, gold, silver, bronze, winter or summer games” will no longer be out of bounds for athletes, while use of certain photographs taken during the Games will also be permitted and athletes will be able to use social media more freely during the Olympic Games.

The Olympic Partner sponsorship scheme guarantees massive exposure for partners during the Games … and is part of the vast flow of revenue into IOC coffers.

The cartel nature of the prevailing arrangement not only restricts the abilities of athletes to earn from their work and achievements but is written into many team contracts, swimming among the sports affected, that athletes must sign up to if they wish to compete for their country. The German ruling is likely to force Olympic and individual sports federations to rewrite their athlete agreements.

The ruling also states that sporting sanctions must not be applied in any disputes, with hearings having to take place in civil courts, the German ruling makes clear.

Andreas Mundt, President of the Federal Cartel Office, said: “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.

“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.

“Our decision grants German athletes more leeway when it comes to marketing themselves during the Olympic Games, for example as far as the use of certain ‘Olympic’ terms or their pictures taken in sports events or social media activities are concerned.”

The IOC, meanwhile, saw its own win in the situation, an official statement including: “With its decision, the German Cartel Office recognized that there are legitimate reasons for restricting individual athletes’ advertising opportunities in order to ensure the ongoing organization of the Olympic Games.

More on the story in English from Reuters.

More reading: a fine example of the extensive and detailed coverage of the news in the German media

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