Open letter: Kirsty Coventry on Rule 40
Dear Athletes’ Commissions,
I am writing to you all as an Olympian, as an athlete and as Chair of the IOC Athletes’ Commission to address concerns about Rule 40. There have been a lot of articles in the western media recently about how the rule is supposedly “unjust” and “unfair”. We have heard from many members of our athlete community who have a variety of opinions on Rule 40.
We understand that athletes are calling for increased funding and opportunities for sponsorship, and that all athletes want to have financial security and support themselves and their athletic career. For me personally as an athlete, I can relate to this need; and as an athlete from a small NOC, I also think of my team mates and my country. Olympic Solidarity Scholarships helped me, like so many other elite athletes, in getting to the Games in the first place. After winning three medals at the 2004 Games in Athens, I became well known and could secure sponsors; however some of my team mates from Zimbabwe were not in the same position. Competing at the Games increased my visibility as an athlete, and without that first opportunity to compete in the Games many other athletes like me would not get sponsors in the first place.
The Olympic Games give athletes a unique platform and connect them to a global audience, creating opportunities to grow their personal brand. At the same time, we believe that the universality of the Games is what makes them so special, giving every nation the chance to compete against one another and a chance for smaller sports to be in the spotlight. This is what brings passion to the Games and excitement to our fans and supporters at home – it’s why, as athletes, we train so hard, because we believe the Olympic Games are the pinnacle of our careers, perhaps even our lives. The Games showcase and bring awareness of unique sporting talents from all corners of the world.
We the IOC Athletes’ Commission members come from a variety of sports and backgrounds, and so the collective thought is that by accepting some small restrictions on commercial activities during the Olympic Games, the limited number of athletes who enjoy personal sponsorship deals are helping to secure funding to support teams from all National Olympic Committees, contributing to the greater good of all athletes.
We would like to clarify a few elements around Rule 40. Rule 40:
- does not prevent Olympians obtaining personal sponsorship – indeed, participating in the Olympic Games often elevates an athlete’s profile to support their commercial earning potential for the rest of their career;
- enables athletes to thank their personal sponsors who have supported them on their journey to the Olympic Games;
- allows athletes to be involved in personal sponsor campaigns during the Olympic Games, provided that the campaign does not rely on or refer to the Olympic Games; and
- applies for 29 days out of a four-year Games cycle, and even then, with prior planning and communication with current sponsors, athletes can make their partnerships work during this period as well as outside it.
What has changed?
Over the past 18 months, the IOC has led many positive developments to enable self-marketing by Olympians around the Olympic Games.
Olympians can now participate in campaigns with personal sponsors (including sponsors who are not part of the IOC or NOC sponsorship programme) during the Olympic Games, in a way that also maintains the funding of global athlete participation and the organisation of the Olympic Games themselves based on the principle of solidarity. This framework supports all athletes worldwide, not just those from wealthy countries or from commercially successful sports disciplines.
The approaches to the implementation of Rule 40 at local level that are being adopted by NOCs all follow on from the IOC’s publication of its new framework for Tokyo 2020. NOCs have to consider their local laws and national situations, and we encourage all athletes’ commissions to have a constructive approach to these discussions with their NOCs. There is no one-size-fits-all for 206 NOCs. Around 100 of the 206 NOCs rely on funding from the IOC and the NOCs’ sponsors for at least half of their revenues. And almost 50 NOCs are reliant on these Olympic funding sources for over 80 per cent of their revenues. These NOCs are heavily reliant on IOC and local sponsor funding to bring their athletes to the Olympic Games. This simply means that, without this funding, those countries could not send a team, and potentially the Games would not take place.
What would happen if Rule 40 were to be removed?
The IOC Athletes’ Commission has heard calls from within the athlete community for further relaxation of the Rule 40 framework, or for the German approach to apply to other countries, to maximise Olympians’ self-marketing opportunities. These arguments are based on purely economic grounds, and if this did happen it could cause long-term damage to the Olympic funding structure. A more global relaxation would not be welcomed by Olympic partners at the worldwide or local levels, and would undermine the appeal of Olympic sponsorship and the solidarity principle. This would:
- harm the revenue sources that support athletes from all over the world to compete at the Olympic Games,
- undermine the diversity of the sports disciplines featured at the Olympic Games,
- could negatively impact athlete experience during the Games and
- ultimately risk the delivery of the Olympic Games in the future.
The Olympic Movement is geared to ensuring participation in competitions by teams from all NOCs that qualify, irrespective of financial means and government support in the home country of the team. The ultimate objective is for sports development at grassroots level in recognition of the importance of sport in society. The alternative is profit maximisation and the promotion of elite athletes as commercially valued stars, where only a small portion of well-funded teams and athletes are able to compete.
I ask on behalf of the IOC Athletes’ Commission for other athletes’ commissions to consider their national situation and if Rule 40 has enabled their NOC to take a team to the Games or whether it has – as some have claimed – taken away from athletes as a whole.
Yours in sport,
IOC Athletes’ Commission Chair