Olympic sprinter Sanya Richards-Ross didn’t have much trouble beating the competition on the track in London.
The American 400-meter dash gold medalist has put the International Olympic Committee in her sights next.
Richards-Ross wants to help bring an end to Rule 40, an IOC statute that limits how athletes can promote their sponsors.
The rule prohibits Olympians from specifically mentioning their sponsors by name or adding additional logos to their apparel when they compete. The Olympics offer no prize money for athletes reaching a final, and makes sure athlete even restrict their Twitter posts during competition to avoid mentioning the brand names of their corporate supporters.
Richards-Ross, whose husband is Jacksonville Jaguars cornerback Aaron Ross, said the rule is antiquated and in need of changing.
“If more athletes would speak up about it,” she said, “there would be more attention put on it. At the end of the day, it’s exploitation, and when people hear the facts, they’ll be outraged just like we athletes are. I think every movement needs a couple of people to stand up for it.
“The Olympic reality has changed.”
Olympic officials have long contended that their exclusive partnerships with sponsors have helped support the Games and allowed them to finance programs that give money to athletes in need worldwide.
“It’s certainly something the vast majority of athletes tell us they appreciate,” IOC spokesman Mark Adams said.
But athletes like Ross-Richards argue that the days of Olympic athletes being amateurs has past, and that profits from the Games have not trickled down to all athletes. The costs of training are high, the athletes insist, and the rules restrict their opportunities to cultivate private sponsorships to finance their profession.
“It’s absurd,” said American middle-distance runner Nick Symmonds, one of the earliest critics of Rule 40 who counts Nike among his sponsors.
“I understand that the IOC needs revenue, but I don’t see how an athlete having a sponsor detracts from that. I want to share the space.”
Ross-Richards, who also anchored the American gold medal-winning 4×400 relay team, is the most high-profile athlete yet to speak out about the issue.
But U.S. Olympic Committee spokesman Patrick Sandusky said that 40 percent of his organization’s budget came from its corporate sponsors. He predicted a decline in that support if the USOC could no longer provide exclusive rights to those companies.
Supporter say opposition to Rule 40 stems from agents who have a financial interest in securing more deals for their clients.
Richards-Ross balked at the suggestion.
“This is athlete-driven,” she said.