As we look forward to a bumper year of major sporting events in 2024, the attentions of many within the sports and marketing communities are turning to the Olympic Games, taking place in Paris this summer.

The International Olympic Committee ("IOC") has recently published its guidelines for social and digital media posts ahead of the Paris Games.  

There are two different sets of guidelines: one for athletes taking part in the Games, and another for accredited individuals not taking part in the Games.  This note will focus on the guidelines as they apply to athletes.

The new guidelines allow athletes and other individuals to take photographs and/or record audio or video content at the Olympic Games, using their mobile phones, to be shared with their followers.  

Despite this shift towards granting greater freedoms to athletes to express themselves and share their experiences of the Games with their fans / followers, the IOC has outlined some clear restrictions.  

By way of example, athletes are not permitted to share posts that are commercial in nature, and certain areas (including medical areas) are off-limits.  They are also forbidden from sharing live footage or any videos that are longer than two minutes in duration.  

Also, while athletes can share their first-person experiences, they are not permitted to take part in media interviews (including podcasts) with third parties, except where this takes place in one of the official Games media zones and with an official media partner of the Olympics. 

Slick - but not too slick

The guidance is also clear that athletes are only allowed to post content from their personal mobile phones, which seeks to avoid the possibility of athletes producing a more 'professional' or 'commercial' type of content.  How this will be enforced remains to be seen.

Sporty tech

As possibly the hottest topic of the last 12 months, AI has not escaped the IOC's attention, and the guidelines contain an explicit prohibition on athletes using AI or AI-generated content or outputs in their posts.  In keeping with emerging technology trends, the IOC has also sought to skirt around the potential minefields presented by immersive environments and metaverse platforms (e.g. Roblox) by simply stating that these are not within the scope of 'social media' for the purposes of the guidance, meaning that athletes are not allowed to share content or engage with fans using these platforms during the Games.  Athletes are also prohibited from creating NFTs or other digital collectibles using their images.  

It will be worth keeping a close eye on how the IOC deals with these emerging technology trends in its guidelines for future Games.  If they continue to become more prevalent and popular then the IOC may feel pressure to permit athletes to engage with them - but one step at a time.

All well and good

Finally, the IOC appears to be sharpening its focus on the welfare of its participants.  As well as the guidelines stressing the need to respect athletes' privacy and stipulating that posts must be consistent with the Olympic values and must not be discriminatory or obscene, the IOC has announced a dedicated mental health zone in the Olympic Village and introduced a new protective measure against cyber abuse.  The service will identify and report on abusive content directed at athletes on Instagram and X (formerly known as Twitter), often intercepting such abuse before the athlete has a chance to see it.

So, plenty of guidance for athletes (and those working with athletes) to help them stay on track.