BOA hits back at Team GB athletes in Olympic sponsorship row

• Mo Farah among those in marketing rights dispute
• Adam Gemili: ‘We want to recognise our sponsors’

The British Olympic Association has entered into a legal dispute with its own athletes as a row over marketing rights looks set to overshadow the countdown to Tokyo 2020.

In an unprecedented statement the BOA said it was “dismayed” by “ongoing legal tactics” from a group of British athletes that includes Sir Mo Farah, Laura Muir and Adam Gemili.

They are seeking to challenge the International Olympic Committee’s Rule 40 which prevents individuals from using their image, name or performance in advertising around the games. The BOA said it had now responded “fully and robustly” to the legal action, which they claim to have learned about only through the media.

A spokesperson said: “The BOA can confirm it has formally responded to the recent legal challenge brought against the BOA’s interpretation of the IOC’s Rule 40 in the UK.

“Since we learned of the legal challenge – through the media – we have proactively sought to understand the athletes’ concerns and who, in fact, we are negotiating with – athletes, agents or commercial organisations.

“Last week we had a positive meeting with representatives of the athletes who have challenged Rule 40 and we continue to impress upon all concerned that we are open to dialogue and reaching a positive outcome that balances the desire for individual athletes to maximise their personal sponsorship revenues with the need to preserve and enhance a system that has collectively sold rights for the benefit of the whole of Team GB, including smaller sports and less high-profile athletes.

“However, despite those encouraging conversations, we have been dismayed by the ongoing legal tactics being conducted in the background, which in no way reflects the spirit of the discussions held.

“Therefore we have been forced to respond fully and robustly to the legal challenge and have done so in the best interests of all of the athletes we serve.”

Speaking last month, Gemili, who is a BOA athlete representative, claimed the legal action was a result of having their concerns ignored. “The situation as it stands is completely unfair,” Gemili said. “For most athletes the Olympics is that one chance every four years to be in the limelight – and we want to be able to recognise those sponsors that have helped us make it to the Games.

“The legal advice we have got is that we have a very strong case. Despite attempts to engage the BOA, we’ve had no indication from them that things will get better. We continue to get brushed aside.”

Rule 40 has long proven controversial amongst athletes. This year, after a successful challenge in the German courts, the IOC ruled that individual countries would have the discretion to interpret the rule more leniently. The BOA responded with a slight shift, allowing athletes to share a generic message of thanks to their sponsors, “provided it doesn’t contain any Olympic branding, such as a medal or Team GB kit or references”.

The Guardian has attempted to contact the athletes’ representatives for comment following the BOA statement.


Paul MacInnes

The GuardianTramp

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