Olympic Athletes and Social Media

Social media is here to stay. And, to paraphrase tag line from a heavily-advertised financial services company, social media is “everywhere you want to be” – even at the Olympic Games. With more than 10,500 athletes (most of whom are younger than the IOC leaders) from 204 countries, there is a lot of social networking communication going on at the Games, and around the world.

In order to promote and protect the official sponsors of the London Olympics, the International Olympic Organization prohibits athletes from appearing in advertising shortly before and during the Olympic Games. The IOC’s ‘Rule 40’ also prohibits the use of social media for promoting non-Olympic sponsors. However,  Rule 40 does not apply to athletes who have endorsement deals with the official sponsors (such as Proctor & Gamble, Coca-Cola, and McDonald’s, etc.). If the lucky athlete has an official Games sponsor, then they can promote the company freely in their tweets and Facebook updates. For everyone else, the ban is in place. The IOC has gone as far as requiring athletes who have posted about non-sponsors to delete the postings.

Athletes and reporters have been speaking out against Rule 40, arguing that the rule benefits the investors of the Olympics, but does not protect or benefit the athletes who are competing. Athletes have argued that during the highly viewed Olympics – which is one of the few viewing opportunities for the non-mainstream sports – the ban reduces the athlete’s value to their sponsors, making it difficult to thank and promote the companies that have helped the athletes in their Olympic journey.

To help make the point about the ways in which Rule 40 impose limitations on the athletes, they started a campaign to get the rule rescinded at #WeDemandChange. One athlete competing in the 100-meter hurdles, Dawn Harper, has gone so far as to tweet photos with “Rule 40” tape applied over the brand names on her hairdryer, and her own mouth. For the U.S. athletes who rely heavily on sponsorships, the rule has limited their opportunity to gain needed funding.


Group Activities and Discussion Questions:

1.      Divide students into groups and have them discuss the pros and cons for the IOC’s Rule 40.
2.      Why did the IOC implement this rule?
3.      What are implications for the athletes and their sponsors?
4.      Have students research how the athletes are supporting or opposing this rule on Twitter.
5.      What have the posts been at #WeDemandChange?
6.      In groups, have students develop an alternative to Rule 40. Is there a middle ground that protects both the Olympic Games and the athletes?

Source:  Ad Age Digital, 7/31/12

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