Olympic Games: Athletes’ Marketing Rights Restrictions Challenged

By Prof Dr Ian Blackshaw

The German Anti-Trust Authority (the Federal Cartel Office) is taking legal action against the German Olympic Sports Federation (DOSB) – the German NOC – and, indirectly the International Olympic Committee (IOC), over restrictions on athletes’ marketing rights during the Summer and Winter Olympic Games.

Under article 40.3 of the Olympic Charter (the latest version as of 15 September 2017), no competitor, who participates in the Olympic Games, may allow his person, name, picture or sports performances to be used for advertising purposes during the Games, except by the official IOC sponsors.

The effect of this rule, to which all competitors in the Games are legally bound as a condition of their participation in them, is that the IOC enjoys a monopoly over sponsorship and advertising, from which it derives mega sums, during the Games. Any infringement of this rule by athletes – even accidentally, for example, by a retweet on social media – will result in their disqualification from the Games.

The German Anti-Trust Authority claims that this rule is too restrictive on athletes and their potential non-IOC sponsors and constitutes an abuse by the IOC of a dominant position in this particular market.

This initiative by the German Anti-Trust Authority poses a serious threat to the IOC, since, if the legal action against the German NOC is successful, this could be followed by similar actions against other NOCs elsewhere.

Billions of Euros are at stake – in the last Olympic cycle, from 2013-2016, the IOC reportedly earned €5.5 billion from sponsorship of the Games by its official sponsors.

The IOC has stated that, in conjunction with the DOSB, it will cooperate with the German Anti-Trust Authority in its investigations.

Watch this space!

Prof Dr Ian Blackshaw may be contacted by e-mail at ‘ian.blackshaw@orange.fr’