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Olympic Brand Protection Cost Michael Phelps His Medals

Will Olympic Brand Protection Cost Michael Phelps His Medals?

August 24, 2012

Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps, famous for being the most decorated Olympian of all time, may be getting attention for all the wrong reasons recently. He appears to have landed himself in trouble with the International Olympics Committee following a leaked photo featuring the athlete lying in a bath tub as part of an ad campaign for Louis Vuitton.

As we discussed in our previous blog article, the IOC have been getting a lot of attention this year for their harsh regulations and brand policing during the games.  Preventing any brands other than the official sponsors of the games from piggybacking off of the IOC’s high profile is the reason for their  approach.

Earlier this year a new rule (rule 40) was implemented which was designed to prevent athletes from promoting non-Olympic sponsored brands from July 27th to August 15th.

The photo for the ad campaign surfaced on Twitter on 13 August, putting Michael Phelps in breach of this regulation. However, Phelps is not the first athlete to have been impacted by this rule; team GB were warned against wearing Beats’ headphones that had been sent by the company to their hotel rooms, and Yohan Blake may receive a fine for wearing a $500,00 Millie watch rather than one made by Omega, official watchmaker of the games.

In the case of Michael Phelps there might be more far reaching consequences. The leaked photos could potentially disqualify the athlete as the IOC rules state ‘A competitor or a team may lose the benefit of any ranking obtained in relation to other events at the Olympic Games at which he or it was disqualified or excluded; in such case the medals and diplomas won by him or it shall be returned to the IOC’.

Whether or not Michael Phelps’s medals will be put in jeopardy rests on whether the photo was leaked intentionally by Louis Vuitton. The company declares that the photos were unofficial and that the campaign was not due to run until 16 August, similarly Phelps’s agent Peter Carlysle has stated that there is no issue with the IOC as the athlete did not authorise the photos to go out.

Will Phelps loose his medals? Does this show a fundamental problem with rule 40 in relation to the Olympics? We asked before whether the IOC’s strict regulations concerning brand promotion during the games were too harsh or whether they were an understandable way to protect the Olympic brand, but what do you think might happen now that the rule might cause an athlete to lose his hard earned medals?