Deborah Healey

People are reportedly “outraged” about the social networking conditions imposed on athletes, officials and ticketholders at the London Olympics. For example, ticketholders are prohibited from uploading images, video and sound recordings taken at the Games to social networking sites. Athletes are allowed to blog and may upload pictures of themselves but not video; all blogging must be done in a “diary” format (presumably so that it can be characterised as personal opinion). They are only allowed to comment on their own performances and other athletes included in photos must have agreed to do so. Stricter rules apply to the Olympic Village. None of these pictures may be linked to commercial parties. Criticisms of the limitations on use of Olympic words and insignia by small commercial entities, enforcement of the general “clean zone” provisions around venues, enforcement of sponsorship categories in food supply, and restrictions on athlete endorsement have also been rife.

People should get used to restrictions in an Olympic context. The restrictions noted are really designed to support three things: rights of broadcasters, the reputation of the Olympics itself and the rights of the sponsors.

The restrictions placed on blogging merely extend the kinds of rules which applied prior to the digital and social networking age- you were not allowed to use photographs commercially unless you were accredited as media; you weren’t allowed to disparage other competitors or comment on events other than your own; you were not allowed to bring your sport or the Olympics into disrepute. Recent examples of athlete comment and photos on social media suggest that they do not always think through their posts!

Complaints about sponsorship restrictions do not fully understand that they are not a new development at these Games.  Similar restrictions existed back in Sydney, although in a different digital media environment. The reality of the Olympics is that sponsors and broadcasters pay huge amounts for exclusive rights which allow the Olympics to exist. Many of these issues have to be agreed by competing Host Nations before they are awarded their Hosting Agreements. The scope for clever ambush marketing is substantially reduced by these restrictions.

Many complaints in London were raised in the lead up to competition and since the Games themselves have commenced they have almost disappeared, overtaken by the Olympic behemoth and the sheer excitement of one of the World’s largest and slickest sporting events.

Deborah Healey is a Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Law at the University of New South Wales.