Letter to Rio: Unmuzzle the Competitors at the 2016 Games

Limiting Them to Ads for Official Sponsors Excludes Too Many Great Athletes

By Published on .

Dear Rio 2016:

Congratulations! Four years from now your beautiful city is going to host an Olympic-sized spectacle. You must have been proud watching this summer's Games in London, knowing that your turn is next.

Are you going to want the very best athletes to come to Rio? Do you want more new world records? Do you want more events than ever to captivate audiences? Then you will need to try to correct an Olympic-sized mistake that is hurting the competitiveness of the Games.

The Olympics are ultimately about the athletes. Not about Bob Costas. Certainly not Matt Lauer. But the International Olympic Committee has a system that breeds an underclass of athletes as second-class citizens who are struggling to get by .

Thanks to Rule 40 of the Olympic charter, athletes can't even so much as mention their sponsors during the Games, even in their private social-media communications -- unless, of course, they are among the privileged minority funded by official Olympic sponsors. If they break this rule, they can actually be stripped of their medals.

The effect is that , particularly in the United States, you are losing some of your best talent to economics. Take our company as an example. Solve Media recently sponsored two U.S. Olympians, weightlifter Sarah Robles and archer Brady Ellison. They fit our ideals of lifting brands and precise targeting. But here is the problem: Robles was trying to live on $400 a month before sponsors like us came along. She is America's number-one ranked female weightlifter. She lifted over 584 pounds in London! But women's weightlifting isn't sexy, literally or figuratively, and corporate sponsors generally take a pass on it. Ellison could find only archery equipment sponsors. Extrapolate this to countries around the world, and you'll see the deeper issue. You don't necessarily have the best athletes competing. You have the best athletes who can afford to compete.

This is where you folks come in. Can you try scrapping this nasty rule that cuts so many people off at the knees when they try to sponsor Olympic athletes? If your official sponsors are worried about having their brands sullied, guess what -- there are a few hundred million Tweets out there potentially sullying them anyway. All this rule does is chase away sponsorships that can help put the best of the best in the arena.

Our company decided to see past this issue, and we are glad we did. Ellison took home the first U.S. medal of the Games. Robles, who overcame poverty and bullying to become an Olympian, broke three personal records and has become a voice for strong women who want to succeed.

The larger sponsorship problem can be fixed with the stroke of a pen. Lift the advertising ban and you lift the muzzle off Olympic athletes, and more of the best ones will be able to compete. Your official partners will still get to show their ads, brand themselves with their sponsored athletes and parade your endorsement in front of a billion or so people. In all likelihood, you'll do even better financially than London did, and improve your own brand, in the process. Most importantly, you will get one huge bonus: better athletes and a better Games.

The motto of Rio 2016 is Viva Sua Paixao -- Live Your Passion. We want to help the world's best athletes live theirs at your next Summer Olympics. I bet you do, too. Let's work together and make that happen.

Ari Jacoby is co-founder and CEO of Solve Media. You can find him on Twitter @arijacoby.
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