Jacques Rogge can pepper his opening ceremony speech with as many references to inclusiveness, fairness and competition as he wants; the truth is the International Olympic Committee is extremely protective of its global brand and their sponsors. It prevents anyone other than the official partners from using Olympic references – whether in text, audio, graphics, photos or video. If you haven’t paid bucket loads of cash to the IOC for the rights, then you had better desist before their lawyers come knocking at your door.
Fair enough, to an extent, but the IOC push the boundaries far beyond what most people would consider reasonable. Words such as ‘gold’, ‘silver’ and ‘bronze, and even ‘summer’, ‘sponsors’ and ‘London’ are in the banned list. Pubs have been advised that blackboards advertising live TV coverage must not refer to beer brands or brewers without an Olympics deal, visitors to the Olympic Park are banned from using their smartphones as wi-fi hotspots, and a Dorset butcher’s sign of the Olympic rings made from sausages was banned. The list goes on and on.
The latest diktat from the Olympic overloads came on Sunday after a less than satisfactory coverage of the men’s road cycling race. The race apparently attracted the largest crowd for any Olympic event, ever. In part, this was down to the host nation having a pretty good chance of a gold medal (not to be, unfortunately), a renewed interest in cycling after UK rider Bradley Wiggins won the Tour de France the previous week, and unseasonably good weather (the sun came out and it briefly stopped raining).
Only one thing didn’t go to plan – the official Olympic Broadcasting Service (OBS) didn’t supply the necessary timing information to their broadcast partners. As a result, the various national commentators struggled to work out what the heck was happening. Even the UK BBC, with expert commentator and former Olympic champion Chris Boardman, couldn’t manage it (I watched it, and it was disappointingly bad), and had to resort to using his own wristwatch to estimate the gaps between the leaders and the peloton. “Stupid BBC”, we all cried, but no, the BBC was blaming the OBS.
So did the IOC hold up its hands and say “sorry, made a mistake, will do better next time”? No. Instead they blamed the excessively large crowds and their excessive social media habits. Reuters reported an IOC spokesman as saying it was a network issue, caused by the hundreds of thousands of fans who were sending messages:
“We don’t want people to stop engaging in social media but we are asking to see if people can send by other means. Of course, if you want to send something, we are not going to say ‘don’t, you can’t do it’, and we would certainly never prevent people. It’s just, if it’s not an urgent, urgent one, please kind of take it easy.”
Apparently, the public’s use of SMS and social media on their mobiles had jammed transmissions of race information, which should have been sent from bike-mounted transmitters back to the OBS (Reuters say they were GPS transmitters, but then mobile signals wouldn’t be a problem)… Games communications director Mark Adams told Reuters:
“From my understanding, one network was oversubscribed, and OBS are trying to spread the load to other providers. We don’t want to stop people engaging in this by social media but perhaps they might consider only sending urgent updates.”
What? Who are these people? Imagine if the water utilities asked people to only go to the loo if they were really, really bursting, as there wasn’t enough water in the system to cope with everyone flushing at once? Or even better, could Londoners please stay off the roads as too many vehicles make it impossible for official IOC traffic to get to their destinations on time. Oh wait, that last one’s true – they’ve already reserved half the roads in the city for their own use, sorry…
A second IOC spokesman then appeared to backtrack and take the blame away from spectators, saying:
“It’s mainly a technical issue with the network.
It’s a network issue, and it is that which we are working on.”
Reuters reports that he then conceded that asking people to not send messages at critical moments, may not have “an awful lot of effect”. No kidding.
It would appear that athletes have more official support for tweeting and blogging than spectators. Here’s what it says in the 4-page IOC Social Media, Blogging and Internet Guidelines:
“The IOC actively encourages and supports athletes and other accredited persons at the Olympic Games to take part in ‘social media’ and to post, blog and tweet their experiences.”
But just in case you think the IOC is giving athletes a completely free reign to indulge themselves, there are some caveats:
“Any such postings, blogs or tweets must be in a first-person, diary-type format and should not be in the role of a journalist – i.e. they must not report on competition or comment on the activities of other participants or accredited persons. A tweet is regarded in this respect as a short blog and the same guidelines are in effect, again, in first-person, diary-type format.”
It gets worse if athletes think they can add multimedia to their posts and tweets:
“Participants and other accredited persons cannot post any video and/or audio of the events, competitions or any other activities which occur at Olympic Venues. Such video and/or audio must only be for personal use and must not be uploaded and/or shared to a posting, blog or tweet on any social media platforms, or to a website.”
Oh, and participants can’t use the IOC’s Olympic Symbol – the five interlaced rings – on their postings, blogs or tweets on any social media platforms or on any websites. Or else.
And let’s not forget “Rule 40” of the IOC’s branding and behaviour guidelines, which bans athletes them from posting pictures of themselves thanking their sponsors – another ill-judged attempt to protect official sponsors from losing value to guerrilla marketing schemes (just Google Paddy Power to one creative example of this).
Today’s London Evening Standard reports that “dozens” of track and field athletes have hit out at the ruling – Part of a 20-page briefing note sent to all athletes and agents by Games organisers Locog – and which carries the penalty of fines, having accreditation removed and even disqualification.
Half of the top ten athletes in the US apparently earn less than $15,000 a year from sport and do not receive government grants toward their training. Instead, they rely on income from sponsors, prize money and part-time jobs. Leo Manzano, who will compete in the 1500m race, was told to remove a photograph of his shoes from his Facebook site. He wrote:
“I am very disappointed in Rule 40. This rule is very distracting to us athletes, and it takes away from our Olympic experience and training.”
Javelin thrower Kara Patterson added: “I am honoured to be an Olympian but I can’t tweet about my only sponsor.” Hashtag #wedemandchange to join the debate.
So that’s the athletes slammed against the wall then, but what about the spectators? No surprise that the organisers are attempting to be just as zealous. In its Terms and Conditions for ticket sales, locog sates in rule 19.6.3 that:
“Images, video and sound recordings of the Games taken by a Ticket Holder cannot be used for any purpose other than for private and domestic purposes and a Ticket Holder may not license, broadcast or publish video and/or sound recordings, including on social networking websites and the internet more generally.”
Like they can stop this happening…
Speaking about the possibility of the brand police being over zealous at the Olympic venues, IOC president Rogge said last week:
“We have to protect of course the sponsors, it goes without saying. You cannot ask a company to pay hundreds of millions of dollars and not be protected against ambush marketing. But the fight against ambush marketing will be led with a lot of common sense. Everything that is in good faith will not be affected and will not be forbidden.”
The Independent newspaper reported earlier this month that 286 enforcement officers will be seen across the country in “the biggest brand protection operation staged in the UK”, checking firms to ensure they are not illegally associating themselves with the Games at the expense of official sponsors. It remains a surprise that they brand police are so well staffed. Obviously G4S was in no way involved…
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