SOCHI, Russia — Want to see the glasses and goggles that aerials skier Lydia Lassila and snowboarder Lindsey Jacobellis wore at the Sochi Olympics? If you go to the website of the company that manufactures their eyewear, you might be in for a shock.
On the Australian section of Bolle.com, photos of Lassila, Jacobellis and other competitors at the Sochi Games have been digitally blurred to obscure their faces.
This isn’t a throwback to the days when Soviet propaganda chiefs airbrushed people out of photos. It’s an extreme application of regulations meant to make sure that companies such as Bolle, which do not sponsor the Olympics, don’t get advertisements off them.
So the Olympics are a Pepsi-free zone, because Coca-Cola is an Olympic sponsor. In Sochi’s Olympic Park, only Visa cards work for payments or in ATMs, again because Visa is a sponsor. At one Sochi venue, an Olympic worker even slapped a white sticker over the Dell logo on a journalist’s laptop, because the computer manufacturer isn’t a sponsor.
For Olympians, the rules severely restricting advertising are a serious issue. In theory, Olympians could be disqualified if they use the games to plug non-approved brands. The International Olympic Committee even holds athletes responsible for how their sponsors behave during the games.
Rule 40 of the IOC charter states: “Except as permitted by the IOC executive board, no competitor, coach, trainer or official who participates in the Olympic Games may allow his person, name, picture or sports performances to be used for advertising purposes during the Olympic Games.”
The rule means athletes cannot allow their images to be used for any commercial advertising, whether Olympic-related or not, for the duration of the blackout period. Even physical advertising such as billboards and magazines are covered.
Pandora, the jewelry company that sponsors U.S. figure skaters Ashley Wagner and Gracie Gold, isn’t an Olympic sponsor. It has had to put on hold an advertising campaign it prepared with Gold and to stop running magazine ads that showed Wagner, their agents said.
For Sochi, the rule applies from nine days before the opening ceremony until three days after the closing — Jan. 30 to Feb. 26.
While the IOC has steadfastly defended the policy, the committee appears willing to consider changes in the future.
“It’s up for discussion and debate,” IOC spokesman Mark Adams said. “It’s an open issue at the games. We’ll discuss it with all the stakeholders.”
Gilbert Felli, the IOC’s executive director of the Olympic Games, said the rule could be reviewed. “If you aren’t happy about it, then we can talk about it,” he said.
U.S. skier Ted Ligety labels the rule “barbaric.” Before the blackout kicked in, he tweeted: “I want to give a shoutout to my sponsors that supported me for years yet arent allowed to get OLY love.”
Figure skater Gold said she did not want to risk the “very frightening” thicket of rules.
The U.S. team “gave me clothes and those are the clothes I’m going to wear, you know? If they give me a certain type of water, that’s the water I’m going to drink. You really just can’t risk it,” she said.
Norwegian online store Ludo, which sells everything from clothes to electronics, used a product featuring cross-country skier Marit Bjoergen on its website early in the games.
Norwegian IOC member Gerhard Heiberg said the ad could lead to “consequences,” including Bjoergen being stripped of the gold. Ludo pulled the image immediately.
The IOC’s top global sponsors pay up to $100 million each for exclusive four-year deals.
The ban doesn’t apply to Olympic partners. BP, for example, is a U.S. Olumpics team sponsor, so it can continue to air a commercial featuring Wagner, the skater. “I haven’t felt like our hands are tied at all because, luckily for her, her main sponsors are Olympic sponsors,” said Wagner’s agent, David Baden. “That’s a luxury for us that they can still advertise Ashley during the games.”
The rule has caused controversy at the Summer Games, too.
Athletes waged a Twitter campaign at the 2012 London Games, using hashtags “WeDemandChange2012” and “Rule40.”
I want to give a shoutout to my sponsors that supported me for years yet arent allowed to get OLY love.”