In the social media age, these rules have extended into athletes’ relationships with their fans. The pamphlet distributed to athletes says Olympians are “encouraged” to use Twitter and blogs to document their experiences. But they “are not permitted to promote any brand, product or service within a posting, blog or tweet.”
“They can’t even say, ‘I’m listening to my iPod today, and I heard this great song during my workout,’ ” Dorfman said. Apple, the iPod’s manufacturer, isn’t an Olympic sponsor.
The USOC’s Baird said enforcement of the rule is “always on a case-by-case basis,” and there are occasionally waivers granted to athletes who have long-standing relationships with companies that are not “trading off the athlete’s Olympic association.”
But representatives believe the rule can impact almost any deal. Phelps, for instance, serves as a spokesman for Head and Shoulders shampoo, a Procter & Gamble product. Those ads can continue to run during the Olympics, because P&G is a worldwide sponsor. But when Carlisle sits down with a company such as Subway, whose competitor McDonald’s is a worldwide Olympic sponsor, the potential value of a deal is less because the association between Phelps and the company is on pause during Phelps’s most visible time in the spotlight.
The final bylaw to Rule 40 contained in the Olympic Charter, reads: “The entry or participation of a competitor in the Olympic Games shall not be conditional on any financial consideration.”
“Stating you can’t authorize any athlete to use his name, likeness or image for any promotional reasons — isn’t that conditional on financial consideration?” Carlisle said. “I don’t see how you reconcile the rule itself with that bylaw.”
There is, though, no expectation among athletes and their representatives that the rule will be rescinded.
“This is a way they can guarantee a $50-to-$100 million investment as a major sponsor of the Olympics, that nobody’s going to undermine it,” Dorfman said. “When you’re dealing with this kind of money, with these kind of high-powered sponsorships, I think it kind of has to be there.”