| LONDON, July 29
LONDON, July 29 The Olympic Twitter protest by
American athletes over restrictions on the promotion of sponsors
is aimed at helping peers who struggle financially to stay in
the sport, world champion runner Sanya Richards-Ross said on
A string of American track and field athletes launched the
campaign on the social networking site in the early hours of the
third day of competition at the London Games.
The tweets targeted rule 40 of the Olympic Charter, which
forbids athletes from taking part in advertising for anyone
except official sponsors during the Games.
"People see the Olympic Games, when athletes are at their
best but they don't see the three or four years before when many
of my peers are struggling to stay in the sport," Richards-Ross,
twice Olympic 4x400 metres relay champion, told reporters.
"The majority of track and field athletes don't have
sponsors. In the sport, a lot of my peers have second and third
jobs to be able to do this. We understand that the IOC is
protecting its sponsors but we want to have a voice as well."
Rule 40 protects the 11 international companies, including
Visa, McDonald's and Coca-Cola, which help to bankroll the
Olympic movement, paying around $100 million each for four years
of global rights to sponsor a Winter and Summer Games.
Those companies and sponsors of National Olympic Committees,
including the United States Olympic Committee (USOC), are exempt
from rules designed to prevent "ambush marketing" or
non-sponsors getting free publicity on the back of the Games.
"Only two percent of U.S. athletes are able to tweet about
their sponsors because only two percent of athletes have USOC or
IOC sponsors," said Richards-Ross.
International Olympic Committee (IOC) spokesman Mark Adams
said the ban was only for one month every four years, arguing
Rule 40 was "entirely the right thing to do" as it supported
less privileged athletes who depended on the IOC for cash.
The IOC pumps back 92 percent of its revenues to its
stakeholders which include Games organisers, international
federations and National Olympic Committees.
Dozens of athletes at these Games have received help from
the IOC for their preparations, including in countries such as
crisis-hit Greece, where funding for sport has been slashed.
"A huge number of athletes would understand why we are doing
this and not endorse products that do not give money to the
Olympic movement," Adams said.
There is no doubt that sport-related income for U.S. track
and field athletes has declined over the last two decades.
Ed Moses, Olympic hurdles champion in 1976 and 1984, said on
Sunday his earning power had been much higher in his heyday than
any American track and field athlete was earning today.
"Track and field has fallen behind a lot of the professional
sports," he said. "In 1983, I was making more than professional
NFL quarterbacks in the United States, being an amateur athlete.
"There is nobody in track and field who can even get close
to those guys now, not even one person."
Emmanuel Seuge, global head of sports and entertainment
marketing at Coca-Cola, said he had not heard about the
protest but was "not necessarily" surprised: "We are a valued
partner of the IOC and we obviously value the way they help
respect the rights that we have acquired."
Richards-Ross said the last thing the protesters, such as
100m hurdles Olympic champion Dawn Harper and high jump world
champion Jesse Williams, wanted was to distract their team.
"We don't want to start a war because we want to come out
here and run well," she said.