Written by Richard Wee, Sophia Ismail and Sabrina Lee Wei Ling

To the world outside of the Olympics, the Olympic Charter (“the Charter”) is akin to a constitution of a nation. It includes, inter alia, recognition of the International Olympic Council (IOC), the International Federations (“IFs”) & National Olympic Committees (“NOCs”), and regulations of the Olympic games. 

The infamy of the Covid-19 pandemic delayed the Tokyo Olympics games in 2020 (“Tokyo 2020”) and eventually on 23rd of July 2021, the 32nd series of the global sporting elite tournament finally opened. 

With the start of Tokyo 2020, Rule 50 of the Charter comes into play again. 

What is Rule 50 of the Charter?

For ease of reference, the said Rule 50 is reproduced below:-

  1. Advertising, demonstrations, propaganda* 

1.Except as may be authorised by the IOC Executive Board on an exceptional basis, no form of advertising or other publicity shall be allowed in and above the stadia, venues and other competition areas which are considered as part of the Olympic sites. Commercial installations and advertising signs shall not be allowed in the stadia, venues or other sports grounds. 

2. No kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas.

The said Rule 50 above is followed by the Bye-law of the provision :-

Bye-law to Rule 50 

  1. No form of publicity or propaganda, commercial or otherwise, may appear on persons, on sportswear, accessories or, more generally, on any article of clothing or equipment whatsoever worn or used by all competitors, team officials, other team personnel and all other participants in the Olympic Games, except for the identification – as defined in paragraph 8 below – of the manufacturer of the article or equipment concerned, provided that such identification shall not be marked conspicuously for advertising purposes. The IOC Executive Board shall adopt guidelines that provide further details on the implementation of this principle. Any violation of this Bye-law 1 and the guidelines adopted hereunder may result in disqualification of the person or delegation concerned, or withdrawal of the accreditation of the person or delegation concerned, without prejudice to further measures and sanctions which may be pronounced by the IOC Executive Board or Session. The numbers worn by competitors may not display publicity of any kind and must bear the Olympic emblem of the Organising Committee for the Olympic Games (“OCOG”). 
  2. Any mascot created for the Olympic Games shall be considered to be an Olympic emblem, the design of which must be submitted by the OCOG to the IOC Executive Board for its approval. Such mascot may not be used for commercial purposes in the country of an NOC without the latter’s prior written approval.
  3. To be valid, all contracts of the OCOG providing for any element of advertising, including the right or license to use the emblem or the mascot of the Olympic Games, must be in conformity with the Olympic Charter and must comply with the instructions given by the IOC Executive Board. The same shall apply to contracts relating to the timing equipment, the scoreboards, and to the injection of any identification signal in television programmes. Breaches of these regulations come under the authority of the Executive Board. 
  4. The OCOG shall ensure the protection of the property of the emblem and the mascot of the Olympic Games for the benefit of the IOC, both nationally and internationally. However, the OCOG alone and, after the OCOG has been wound up, the NOC of the country of the host, may exploit such emblem and mascot, as well as other marks, designs, badges, posters, objects and documents connected with the Olympic Games during their preparation and celebration and terminating not later than the end of the calendar year during which such Olympic Games are held. Upon the expiry of this period, all rights in or relating to such emblem, mascot and other marks, designs, badges, posters, objects and documents shall thereafter belong entirely to the IOC. The OCOG and/or the NOC, as the case may be and to the extent necessary, shall act as trustees (in a fiduciary capacity) for the sole benefit of the IOC in this respect. 
  5. The provisions of this Bye-law also apply, mutatis mutandis, to all contracts signed by the organising committee of a Session or an Olympic Congress. 
  6. The uniforms of the competitors, team officials, and other team personnel may include the flag or Olympic emblem of their NOC and, with the consent of the OCOG, the OCOG Olympic emblem. The IF officials may wear the uniform and the emblem of their IF. 
  7. The identification on all technical gear, installations and other apparatus, which are neither worn nor used by competitors, team officials, other team personnel or any other participants in the Olympic Games, including timing equipment and scoreboards, may on no account be larger than 1/10th of the height of the equipment, installation or apparatus in question, and shall not be greater than 10cm high. 
  8. The word “identification” means the normal display of the name, designation, trademark, logo or any other distinctive sign of the manufacturer of the item, appearing not more than once per item. 
  9. The OCOG, all competitors, team officials, other team personnel and all other participants in the Olympic Games shall comply with the relevant manuals, guides, regulations or guidelines, and all other instructions of the IOC Executive Board, in respect of all matters subject to Rule 50 and this Bye-law

Prohibition of Advertising and Publicity at Olympic Sites

To have a better understanding on how Rule 50 and its bye-law are applicable in the Olympic Games, we can refer to the “Guidelines Regarding Authorised Identifications Games of the XXXII Olympiad Tokyo 2020” (“The Guidelines”) presented by the IOC. 

The Olympic Games aims to focus on the performance of athletes, and not for the purpose of any unauthorised commercial, political, religious or racial propaganda. To eliminate that, participants must ensure that their items remain unbranded and/or unfeatured on the Field of Play (FOP) or in camera view. For example, items such as headphones, water bottles, coolers, umbrellas, towels, bandages (i.e. kinesio tape), contact lenses, earplugs, face masks, face shields, mouth guards and nose clips  [non-exhaustive list]  shall not feature any identification of the manufacturer to avoid advertising or product placement. To avoid the issue of over-commercialisation, only the Olympic Partners (TOP) sponsors namely Airbnb, Alibaba Group, Allianz, Atos, Bridgestone, Coca Cola, Dow, General Electric, Intel, Omega, Panasonic, Procter & Gamble, Samsung, Toyota, Visa are given the exclusive rights to promote their brandings at the competition sites and venues, whereas non-sponsors are refrained from advertising their brand logos in Olympic arenas. 

However, there is an exemption to the Bye-Law of Rule 50, where it allows the identification of the manufacturer on the sports attire and sports equipment provided that it is not “marked conspicuously for advertising purposes” and it is within the permitted sizes of logos. For instance, the equipment logo on bows, arrows, armguard and chest guards in an Archery game must be conformed with the specific Guidelines.

Besides, the Guidelines also provide that wording or lyrics from national anthems, motivational words, public/political messaging or slogans related to national identity featured on the items are not permitted. Recently, the Russian synchronized swimmers were banned by the IOC at the Tokyo Olympics, due to the image of a bear on their swimsuit and the music composition, titled “With Russia From Love” which are closely associated with their national identity. Furthermore, athletes from Russia are only permitted to participate in the Olympic Games under the name of the “Russian Olympic Committee (ROC)” as they are banned by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) from competing in its own name, using its own flag, national anthem and “other national symbols of the Russian Federation” on their uniforms due to a massive doping scandal. Therefore, they had to remove the name of their country mentioned in the lyrics composition and redesign a new swimsuit.

“No kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas.” 

In the Rule 50 Guidelines developed by the IOC’s Athletes’ Commission (“The AC Guidelines”), examples of what constitutes a protest as opposed to expressing views includes displaying any political messaging, including signs or armbands and political gestures like a hand gesture or kneeling. If an athlete or participant is in breach of Rule 50 and the Olympic Charter, each incident will be evaluated by their respective National Olympic Committee, International Federation and the IOC, and disciplinary action will be taken on a case-by-case basis as necessary.

Black Lives Matter

In an era where the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement is merely more than a controversy and it is more than social media influencers trying to ‘chase clout’, it is safe to say what started with anger and frustration over the killing of George Flloyd and similar police brutality, it has developed into a wider ongoing discussion in society. In the past few years, many athletes, of different races and backgrounds have shown their support for BLM by kneeling or raising a clenched fist at sporting events. However, there is always a risk of personal and professional consequences when they do this. For example, in 1968, Tommie Smith and John Carlos both raised a black-gloved fist in a Black Power salute at the Olympics. They were both expelled from the Games instantly. Though it should be applauded that some athletes have managed to find ways to be creative in finding Rule 50 loopholes. This year, in support of BLM, Costa Rican Olympic gymnast, Luciana Alvarado incorporated the powerful gesture of taking a knee, putting her left hand behind her back, and raising her right fist into the air by incorporating it in her gymnastics routine. Even so, there are about 130 Black athletes representing the United States of America at this year’s Tokyo Olympics. They not only represent their country but also their race and their history. Undoubtedly, many will face the difficult decision of whether or not to jeopordise their careers in the name of activism.

LGBTQ Representation

On the other hand, the captain of the German women’s field hockey team, Nike Lorenz is allowed to wear a rainbow-colored armband and socks at the Tokyo Olympics in support of the LGBTQ community. Even though contradictory to The Guidelines, she was given permission by the IOC as it is seen as a symbol of sexual diversity. This highlights ambiguities in how the rules are implemented, and it sheds light on the dilemmas athletes may face when wanting to challenge Rule 50. Where does the IOC draw the line? Would it be the same outcome if the athlete was Black? Or if they were representing a country where being LGBTQ is a criminal offence? This decision also reveals that another Olympic athlete who wears rainbow coloured clothing could face different consequences just because there is no approval. 

This is the reality even though The AC Guidelines explain that Rule 50 exists because “Athletes at the Olympic Games are part of a global community with many different views, lifestyles and values” and that “the mission of the Olympic Games to bring the entire world together can facilitate the understanding of different views, but this can be accomplished only if everybody respects this diversity.” It is proposed that Rule 50 only makes things worse by pretending to be better. The Olympics should not represent an ideology through rose coloured lenses. This is because showing solidarity does not have to be propaganda. Athletes shouldn’t have to find loopholes to be able to show support.  Being true to who you are and who you love should not be political. Lastly, “staying neutral means staying silent, and staying silent means supporting ongoing injustice.”

 

Published on 1 August 2021

 

References:-

  1. “Olympic Charter” (International Olympic Committee July 17, 2021) <https://olympics.com/ioc/olympic-charter> accessed July 27, 2021 
  2. “The Olympic Partner Programme” (International Olympic Committee) <https://olympics.com/ioc/partners> accessed July 29, 2021 
  3. Guidelines Regarding Authorised Identifications Games of the XXXII Olympiad Tokyo 2020

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