Sports Marketing: British Athletes Sue British Olympic Association (BOA)

By Professor Dr Ian Blackshaw

It was reported, on 15 November 2019, that twenty high profile British athletes, led by sprinter Adam Gemili, have started a legal action against the BOA to compel it to relax its “unjust and unlawful” sponsorship rules.

Under rule 40 of the Olympic Charter, which the BOA applies, athletes are not allowed to commercially exploit their image, name or performance for any advertising purposes during or around the Olympic Games. However, the IOC has conceded that countries may decide to be more flexible on this, after the rule was successfully challenged legally earlier this year in the German Courts.

In fact, the German and the US National Olympic Committees have now allowed their athletes more freedom to market themselves in the forthcoming 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.

Gemili claims that in Britain:

“the situation as it stands is completely unfair.”

And adds:

“For most athletes is that one chance every four years to be in the limelight – and we want to recognise those sponsors that have helped us make it to the games. Despite attempts to engage the BOA……we continue to get brushed aside.”

However, the BOA has given some legal ground to allow British athletes to issue a generic thank you message during the Games, provided that the message “does not contain any Olympic branding, such as a medal or team GB kit or references.”

Gemili also claims that they have been advised that legally they have “a very strong case.”

Certainly, the British Courts, which, in general, are reluctant to get involved in sporting disputes, will, in fact, intervene in those sporting disputes that involve any unreasonable restraint of trade. In other words, where restrictions prevent athletes from reasonably earning their livelihoods. See the English Court of Appeal decision in the case of Nagle v. Feilden [1966] 1 All ER 689.

It will be interesting to see what happens next – an out-of-court settlement or a Court judgement in favour of the claimants or not as the case may be?

It may be added that the IOC is reported to have stated that any disputes, in relation to rule 40, should be decided in the Civil Courts – and not, therefore, in the Court of Arbitration for Sport!

Prof Dr Ian Blackshaw may be contacted by e-mail at ‘’















Prof Dr Ian Blackshaw may be contacted by e-mail at ‘’