Tokyo 2020 (?!) Olympic Games – Rule 40 Advertising Guidelines

01 February 2021

As the Tokyo 2021 2020 summer Olympic Games (“Games”) get closer, companies who sponsor Team Canada athletes, but that are not official Olympic partners, need to be aware of how the Canadian Olympic Committee (“COC”) will implement Rule 40 during the Games. Under the COC’s Athlete Marketing/Rules 40 Guidelines (“Guidelines”) for the Games, both sponsors and the Team Canada athletes they sponsor need to know the restrictions that apply to advertising campaigns during the Rule 40 period (“Rule 40 Period”), which runs from July 13 to August 10, 2021 (these dates, and the dates noted below that are predicated on the Rule 40 Period, are subject to further revision based on International Olympic Committee direction).



The Guidelines outline a process pursuant to which Team Canada athletes and their sponsors are required to notify the COC of their advertising campaigns that run during the Rule 40 Period by May 14, 2021 (“Notification Requirement”).  This process is administered through COC’s online platform and includes a requirement to submit an advertising plan that includes a representative sample of each planned tactic and a media schedule, along with other pertinent information. Once received, the COC will assess the submission for compliance with the Guidelines.

In terms of compliance with the Guidelines, the relevant advertising campaigns will be permitted provided they comply with the following key principles (“Key Principles”):

  1. The advertising is “generic” (as defined in the Guidelines; most importantly such advertising must not create an association, either directly or indirectly, between the sponsor and Team Canada, the Games or the Olympic movement);
  2. The advertising (i) has been in market for at least ninety (90) days prior to start of the Rule 40 Period (i.e. must be in market on or before April 13, 2021), (ii) is advertised consistently during that period and (iii) is not objectively escalated during the Rule 40 Period (subject to certain limited exceptions); and
  3. The Notification Requirement has been satisfied.

In addition, the Guidelines also permit the following additional two (2) types of advertising: (a) the sponsor can post one (1) message congratulating the athlete on social media; and (b) the athlete can post one (1) “thank you” message on social media recognizing their sponsor (which the sponsor can re-post or share).  These posts are not subject to the Key Principles.  However, they are nonetheless subject to their own significant restrictions.  For example, such posts cannot use photos nor video from the Games, nor any other type of Olympic marks.

Considering the significant restrictions imposed by the Guidelines, sponsors and athletes need to be aware of the permitted scope of advertising activities during the Rule 40 Period.  Great care must be taken to develop these advertising campaigns and it is now imperative to begin this process considering the key dates noted above are rapidly approaching. Let the Games (finally) begin!


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