With the Rio Olympics well underway, Canadian brands need to be aware of the “do’s and don’ts” of advertising and social media content involving the Olympics and Olympic athletes.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the Canadian Olympic Committee (COC) have long been aggressive in enforcing illicit use of the term “Olympics”, the five rings and the other associated Olympic Marks. See Olympic and Paralympic Marks Schedule 1. Olympic and Paralympic Marks Act. S.C. 2007, c. 25. To this end, Canada, along with all other countries who have ever hosted an Olympic game, have created special legislation prohibiting the use of those marks.

Any party seeking to use the Olympic Marks in Canada must seek COC authorization. In addition, the IOC and COC has sought to prevent any association with the Olympics whether or not associated with one of the specifically protected Olympic Marks. Major Canadian brands pay the COC for the right to use Olympic trademarks and associate their brand with the Olympics and Team Canada athletes. Thus only official sponsors, licensees and partners of the COC are permitted to suggest an affiliation or connection with the Olympic Brand.

Rule 40: Athlete advertising during the Olympic games

Individual Olympic athletes depend on sponsors to help underwrite the cost of their training and participation. For this purpose they license their individual brand to such sponsors who naturally want to promote their association and sponsorship. This runs smack into the IOC’s Rule 40 which has caused unhappiness among individual athletes and their sponsors. Under the IOC’s Rule 40 of the Olympic Charter, “…no competitor, coach, trainer, or official who participates in the Olympic Games may allow his person, name, picture or sports performance to be used for advertising purposes…” during the Rio Games period (July 27 to August 24, 2016) in any form of advertising, including social media.  Rule 40 was meant to prevent sponsors of individual athletes (who are not otherwise Olympic sponsors) from leveraging their sponsorship of individual Olympic athletes to associate themselves with the popularity of the Olympic Games as a whole without paying the price to be an official sponsor.

Without a waiver, non-Olympic sponsors are prohibited from marketing activities associated with their sponsored Olympic athletes for the duration of the games. Without a waiver, even retweeting is not allowed. A waiver will never be given to use any of the protected Olympic trademarks, such as the words or logo marks “Olympics”, “Canadian Olympic Team”, “Team Canada”, “Rio 2016”, or “Paralympic”.

Rio 2016

Olympic RingsCOC Logo 2

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In addition under no circumstances will a waiver allow the individual athlete sponsor to create an impression of an association between the sponsor or its brand and the Olympic Games or the Canadian Olympic Team. Finally, no waiver will be granted for any advertising unless it was in the market at least four months prior to the start of the games period for Rio 2016 (i.e. by March 27, 2016), running continuously and not materially escalated during the games period.

The COC’s guidelines are available here: Athlete Advertising Guidelines for Rio 2016.

In order for a non-Olympic sponsor to get a waiver, an application must have been made completed by March 27, 2016 and the COC must have reviewed all advertising materials featuring an athlete’s name, voice, image, sport performance or likeness. In addition, non-Olympic sponsors must have had their advertisements featuring athletes in market for four months prior to the Rio Games. In effect the waiver process is so onerous that many individual athlete sponsors may not have chosen to obtain one.

What non-Olympic sponsors can and can’t do on social media

Without a waiver, the COC takes the position that even a congratulatory message referencing a sponsored athlete’s sport performance or participation is not allowed, even if no use is made of the games images, video, trademarks or reference to the Canadian Olympic team as a whole.

With a Rule 40 waiver the following is allowed:

  • Congratulatory messages or posts on social media that reference an athlete’s performance or participation in the Rio Games, if COC pre-approval of content and the number of congratulatory-type posts based on the sponsor’s posts year-round is obtained.
  • For example:

Congrats to @Xathlete on her gold medal today!

Even if a Rule 40 waiver has been granted, non-Olympic sponsors’ social media content must not:

  • Increase in number or frequency of social media posts during the Rio Games – the frequency of posts must be consistent with year-round posts.
  • Use any of the Olympic trademarks, or Olympic-related or Rio-2016 related terms, expressions or hashtags. For example, non-Olympic Sponsors should not be using #Olympics, #SummerGames, #Rio2016, #TeamCanada etc.
  • Include past or current Olympic images or videos.
  • Include Olympic-themed content or content that creates an impression of an association with the Olympics, IOC, COC, Rio 2016 or the Canadian Olympic Team.
  • Include content that references or creates an association with Team Canada or the Canadian Olympic Team. Social media content must be specific to the sponsored athlete. For example, the following would not be permitted:

Congrats to @Xathlete as she goes for gold today at #Rio 2016! #TeamCanada

  • Re-tweet, re-post or share social media content from IOC, Rio 2016, COC, Canadian Olympic Foundation or Team Canada. For example, the following would not be permitted:

“@TeamCanada – Aug 13 Great performances by @RoseMaclennan and @crispin_duenas today! #TeamCanada

Outside of the games period, the COC has published guides on Olympic Brand use in Canada for various interest groups, including the media, community institutions, the business community and the general public.

In conclusion, non-Olympic sponsors, even individual athlete sponsors, will have to tread very carefully with respect to any mention of the games or the athletes involved.

See our previous posts on Rule 40 and the Rio Olympics in other jurisdictions:   US “Social media risks during the Rio Games”, UK “In the UK, the first rule of the Olympics is: You don’t take about the Olympics” and Australia “Who goes to Rio: Sports sponsorship and ambush marketing in Australia”.