While Olympic athletes may freely display their sponsors swooshes, stretched cats and other such icons on their gear, promoting those same sponsors in Tweets or other social media posts is banned under a social media gag order commonly known as, “Rule 40.” The Olympics being an old organization while social media is a new and delightful form of communicating everything instantly. On the one hand, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) most likely seeks to protect sponsorship agreements such as its agreement with Adidas, which paid hefty sums for rights to use the Olympic rings and London 2012. On the other hand, athletes, especially American athletes, desperately need help from sponsors, any sponsors to keep up with the costs of gear and training. Those sponsors want their names to be popularized as their sponsored athletes win medals and glory across the world.
With this in mind it’s easy to see that athletes, social media fans and of course sponsors of the athletes don’t really like Rule 40. This has led to a bit of a backlash. Olympic medalist Dawn Harper posted an image of herself with a piece of white tape labeled, “Rule 40,” across her mouth. On Twitter there were hashtags for #rule40 and #WeDemandChange. According to Brian Solis who sides with social media, the IOC is a “digitally illiterate gatekeeper” that is short sighted for implementing Rule 40. As he sees it, a more lenient approach to sponsored social media posts would have led to better public relations as well as extended reach. Tactics such as Rule 40 is risky and it tarnishes the brand when there is a backlash. Meanwhile Guor Marial from the Sudan is one of a handful of athletes running under the IOC flag – but it arrived with gear in a kit from Nike rather than from the official Olympic sponsor, Adidas.