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IOC Takes Endorsement Bread from Athletes' Mouths

Jacques Rogge
CNBC.com
Jacques Rogge

Don't expect any Olympic athletes to cash in on their fame with a new endorsement deal from a non-Olympic sponsor until next Thursday.

That's because, according to a new rule unilaterally imposed on the athletes by the International Olympic Committee, the Olympic Games period actually is defined as taking place from Aug. 1 to Aug. 27.

That's relevant because, according to the Olympic Charter Rule 41, athletes cannot appear on advertising of non-Olympic sponsors during what is defined as that games period.

CNBC has learned that before these games, the games period was defined as ranging from the Opening to the Closing Ceremonies. But in late October, the IOC sent a letter stating that, for the Beijing Games, that period would begin eight days before the games and end three days after the closing ceremony.

Agents of those Olympic athletes who just won marketable gold medals are not happy with this ruling. Some claim they never received any of this communication. Others who have heard are concerned for their clients, who already have a very small window to cash in, especially with the NFL and college football set to start.

Many contend that the IOC -- which is imposing the rule to further protect its Olympic sponsors from ambush marketing -- doesn't have the legal right to stop athletes from signing deals as soon as the games are done. IOC officials have not said what the specific penalties they would impose, but if it's making an athlete ineligible retroactively, it could involve the stripping of medals.

"As to Rule 41, the Games period, as defined by the IOC, is clear," said USOC general counsel Rana Dershowitz. "The definition does not seem unreasonable to us as the purpose of the rule is to protect against non-Olympic sponsors trading off the excitement and value of the Games -- a benefit that is reserved for Olympic sponsors."

Dershowitz would not speculate on how an Olympian would be punished if the games period were violated.

--Liz Robbins contributed to this post.

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