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Athletes in Germany score win over Olympic restrictions to promote sponsors

In a win for athletes over Olympic restrictions, a German federal agency ruled Wednesday that "abusive" limits on games-time promotional activities should be relaxed.

Federal Cartel Office says Olympic Charter's rules are 'too far-reaching'

In a ruling Wednesday by a German federal agency, biathlete Simon Schempp and other athletes in that country can now use some Olympic language and images from competitive events, and use social media more freely, to thank sponsors. (Kim Hong-Ji/Reuters/File)

In a win for athletes over Olympic restrictions, a German federal agency ruled Wednesday that "abusive" limits on games-time promotional activities should be relaxed.

The Olympic Charter's rules are "too far-reaching and thus constitute abusive conduct," the Federal Cartel Office said in an initial judgment on Wednesday in Geneva.

It is unclear how the ruling in International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach's home nation could help athletes worldwide promote their personal sponsors at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.

International athletes have long been frustrated by the Rule 40 bylaw, which states that "no competitor … may allow his person, name, picture or sports performances to be used for advertising purposes during the Olympic Games" without an exemption from the IOC executive board.

The German agency said athletes that do not get a direct share of IOC revenue — worth $5.7 billion from 2013-16 —should be free to promote themselves.

Self-marketing during Games plays 'very important role'

"While athletes are the key figures of Olympic Games, they cannot benefit directly from the IOC's high advertising revenue generated with official Olympic sponsors," said Andreas Mundt, president of the federal office. "However, as the games mark the height of their sporting careers, self-marketing during the Games plays a very important role."

The existing commercial ban spans a "frozen period" of nine days before the Olympics open until three days after the closing ceremony.

In Germany, exceptions could be applied for at least three months in advance if the advertising campaign had already begun and did not use "Olympic-related terms."

"It is now allowed to use terms like `medal, gold, silver, bronze, winter or summer games,"' the cartel office said.

The IOC's position is that Rule 40 protects the exclusivity and value of the sponsor deals which help fund the games, athlete training and sports bodies worldwide.

"It ensures that the whole world can come together at the games," the Olympic body said in a statement.

Stopping ambush marketing legitimate aim, says IOC

As part of the judgment, the IOC and German Olympic committee agreed to concessions that "considerably enhance advertising opportunities for German athletes and their sponsors."

Athletes in Germany can now use some Olympic language and images from competitive events, and use social media more freely, to thank sponsors.

The IOC said it welcomed the ruling's acceptance that stopping ambush marketing is a legitimate aim.

"With its decision, the [agency] recognized that there are legitimate reasons for restricting individual athletes' advertising opportunities in order to ensure the ongoing organization of the Olympic Games," the IOC said. "At the same time, any implementation of Rule 40 at the national level necessarily has to take all applicable laws and regulations as well as pertinent case law into account, in this instance, particular German case law."

The revised guidelines will stay in place through the 2026 Winter Olympics, the IOC said.

The IOC's statement did not address questions about how the German ruling could affect keeping the stricter version of Rule 40 in other countries.

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