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With the opening ceremony of the Rio Olympics now less than three weeks’ away everyone will be hoping that the Olympics (and Paralympics) will create a massive feel-good factor. With this in mind many businesses may be considering products or services or advertising of some description that implies an association with the Olympics to jump on the back of this national feel good factor.

Corporate sponsors invest hundreds of millions of pounds in the Olympics and in return want a degree of exclusivity. This means those countries hosting the Olympics and those who are members of the Olympic family have national legislation protecting the Olympic brand as far as possible. Consequently any business who is not an official sponsor needs to tread very carefully in creating any advertising or sponsorship which implies a form of association with the Olympics.

Olympic Symbol etc (Protection) Act 1995

The key piece of legislation in the UK is the Olympic Symbol etc (Protection) Act 1995 (“OSPA”) which provides dedicated protection for the Olympic symbol and various associated words. This prevents businesses in the course of their trade using certain words (e.g. Olympics or Olympian or Olympiad) or symbols (the Olympic rings or the Rio 2016 emblems) or mottos (e.g. “faster, higher, stronger”) or associated words such as “Team GB” and “Rio 2016” and stretches so far as to cover images and footage from the Olympic Games themselves. The legislation provides equivalent protection for the Paralympics.

Businesses can use some of these words in a factual context providing the use does not suggest some form of association with the Olympic Games, however, care should be taken to ensure the OSPA is not infringed when doing so.

Ambush marketing

We have all seen the creative adverts used by non-official sponsors to promote their products by implying some form of connection with the Olympics and Team GB. This is often referred to as “ambush marketing”. When London hosted the Olympics in 2012 there was some specific legislation passed designed to prevent ambush marketing.

Whilst this specific legislation no longer applies in the UK, businesses still need to tread very carefully given:

  • OSPA continues to provide significant protection;
  • there is still a risk of a “passing off” claim where members of the public are confused into thinking some form of endorsement or association with the Olympics exists when in fact it does not; and
  • if you are conducting an ambush marketing campaign internationally you could well be committing an offence in Brazil or any other country where the campaign is directed under their local legislation.
Rule 40

One way in which non-official sponsors often try to promote their products is by personal sponsorship deals with the athletes themselves. Previously under Rule 40 of the International Olympic Committee’s rules, athletes were not allowed to feature in advertising for non-official sponsors during the Olympics themselves and a short period before and after nor were they allowed during that period to tweet about non-official sponsors.

These rules have now been relaxed, however, they come with significant restrictions, the main ones being firstly that the advert can’t explicitly mention the Games or use any Olympic intellectual property (such as the Olympic rings or the words “Olympic”, Rio 2016” etc) and secondly that the advertising has been used in a consistent and compliant manner since the 27th March 2016 with the athletes and brands obtaining appropriate waivers from the relevant Olympic Associations.

Tickets

Tickets to the Games in Rio should not be used as competition prizes unless offered through an official sponsor as this will be a breach of the terms and conditions relating to ticket sales and may actually constitute a criminal offence in Brazil where there is specific legislation to target the illegal sale of tickets.

If you or your business are thinking of any form of advertising during the course of the Olympics which implies some form of association with the Olympics then you should proceed with caution and take appropriate advice to make sure you don’t fall foul of the law.

By Christian Mancier, Commercial expert and Partner at Gorvins