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US olympic athletes tweet protests over sponsor ban rule

posted 30 Jul 2012, 08:30 by Mpelembe Admin   [ updated 30 Jul 2012, 08:30 ]

U.S. Twitter rebels use social media to protest Olympic sponsorship rule, saying they want to help struggling athletes.

An Olympic Twitter protest by American athletes over restrictions on the promotion of sponsors is aimed at helping peers who struggle financially to stay in the sport, world champion runner Sanya Richards-Ross said on Monday (July 30).
A string of American track and field athletes launched the campaign on the social networking site in the early hours of the third day of competition at the London Games.

The tweets targeted rule 40 of the Olympic Charter, which forbids athletes from taking part in advertising for anyone except official sponsors during the Games.

"Rule 40 in particular, yes it is restricting us. Only two percent of US athletes are able to tweet about their sponsors because only two percent of US athletes have USOC or IOC sponsors, so that leaves out 90 percent of my peers. So we are disgruntled about that and we understand the IOC are protesting their sponsors but like we said we want to have a voice as well, so that's the issue," Richards-Ross told reporters.

The twice Olympic 4x400 metres relay champion said the situation wasn't fair for athletes struggling to get by.

"People see the Olympics, they see the two weeks when athletes are at their best. It's the most glorious time in our lives, but like I said they don't see the 3 or 4 years leading up to the Olympic Games when a lot of my peers are trying to stay in my sport. The majority of track and field athletes don't have sponsors and don't have support to stay in the sport. A lot of my peers have second and third jobs to do this and that's just unfortunate," she said.

Richards-Ross said the last thing the protesters, such as 100m hurdles Olympic champion Dawn Harper and high jump world champion Jesse Williams, wanted was to distract their team from their main focus - winning.

"We definitely don't want to start a war or start too much trouble, because like I said we do want to come out here and run well. Everybody that has made it here deserves that opportunity," she said.

Rule 40 protects the 11 international companies, including Visa, McDonald's and Coca-Cola, which help to bankroll the Olympic movement, paying around 100 million US dollars each for four years of global rights to sponsor a Winter and Summer Games.

Those companies and sponsors of National Olympic Committees, including the United States Olympic Committee (USOC), are exempt from rules designed to prevent "ambush marketing" or non-sponsors getting free publicity on the back of the Games.

International Olympic Committee (IOC) spokesman Mark Adams said the ban was only for one month every four years, arguing Rule 40 was "entirely the right thing to do" as it supported less privileged athletes who depended on the IOC for cash.

"That Rule 40 only lasts for, I think it's about a month - the time the Olympic Village is open. So those athletes lucky enough to have a high profile can work with their sponsors throughout the four years, they have one month where they can't actually do that," he said.

"What we're trying to do is actually help those athletes who don't have the high profiles and those countries that don't have the high profiles. We're trying to protect money that comes into the Olympic movement that as you know 93, 94 percent of it is redistributed to sport. That's why we're doing it and I think one month where we ask people not to being in all sorts of other sponsors is entirely the right thing to do," he added.

The IOC pumps back 92 percent of its revenues to its stakeholders which include Games organisers, international federations and National Olympic Committees.

Dozens of athletes at these Games have received help from the IOC for their preparations, including in countries such as crisis-hit Greece, where funding for sport has been slashed.