Sanya Rochards-Ross and Jesse Williams at the news conference Monday. (Stu Forster / Getty Images )
LONDON — A day after an array of Olympians took to Twitter in a concerted effort to protest an International Olympic Committee ban on publicizing their sponsors during the Games if those companies aren’t also Olympic sponsors, 400-meter gold-medal favorite Sanya Richards-Ross said athletes want a voice in the distribution of sponsorship money that currently goes directly to the IOC.
The ban is spelled out in Rule 40 of the Olympic Charter. The IOC has also issued guidelines limiting athletes’ ability to thank or promote their personal sponsors via social media and limiting what they can say in blogs or tweets.
"I just believe that the Olympic ideal and the Olympic reality are now different,” Richards-Ross said at a news conference Monday.
"Six billion dollars is being traded hands behind the scenes," she said. "I’ve been very fortunate to do very well around the Olympics, but so many of my peers struggle in the sport, and I just think it’s unjust that they’re not being considered. Athletes are not a part of the conversation. And once again Rule 40 shows the restrictions that are put on athletes and makes the burdens even heavier for each individual athlete.
"Athletes just want to be considered. This is not just a USA issue. This is a global issue … all this money is being made."
Richards-Ross said only 2% of U.S. athletes can tweet about their sponsors because only that small percentage has IOC or U.S. Olympic Committee sponsors.
"So that leaves out 98% of my peers," she said. "We are disgruntled about that. We understand the IOC is protecting their sponsors, but we want to have a voice as well.”
Decathlete Ashton Eaton, who also participated in Monday's news conference, responded with a simple "no" when asked what he thought about Richards-Ross' campaign. The third participant, high jumper Jesse Williams, said, "Sanya did a pretty good job, I thought."
Richards-Ross, Nick Symmonds, Darvis Patton, Bernard Lagat, Jamie Nieto and Lashinda Demus are among athletes who posted identical messages late Sunday on Twitter that said, "I am honored to be an Olympian but #WeDemandChange2012.”
Symmonds auctioned space on his arm for a promotional tattoo and got $11,000 from Hanson Dodge Creative, a design and advertising agency based in Milwaukee. He also appears in Web videos created by the agency. However, he must cover the tattoos during competitions, including the Olympics.
"People see the Olympics and see the two weeks when athletes are at their best. It’s the most glorious time in our lives. But like I said, they don’t see the three or four years leading up to the Olympic Games when a lot of my peers are struggling to stay in the sport," Richards-Ross said. "The majority of track and field athletes don't have sponsors and don't have support to stay in the sport. A lot of my peers have second and third jobs to be able to do this, and that’s just unfortunate."