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What is Rule 40? Olympic advertising rules explained

9th July 2021 By Lauren Stradling
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Soon it will be time to pack the England flag away (until the next World Cup in 2022!) and instead unravel the Union Jack flag, ready to wave it frantically in front of the TV as we celebrate the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 this month. But, if you’re a brand hoping to maximise your exposure during these highly anticipated games, there’s a few things you should know.

If you’re planning your social media content -or any external advertising for that matter – over the weeks before and during the games (which is a period known as the ‘blackout period’) then it’s best not to mention the phrases “Olympics”, “Paralympics”, “Team GB” or even “Tokyo” as you may well get yourself in hot water.


This is because of Rule 40, which is a bylaw in the Olympic Charter that restricts public reference to Olympic competition to solely the sponsors that have paid for it.

The Olympics are really expensive (the Rio Games cost over $13 billion to stage) and since sponsorship revenues ($848 million for the Rio Games) go in part toward paying for them, the International Olympic Committee is eager to protect the value of the sponsorships it sells. These sponsorship deals don’t come cheap either – a basic four-year sponsorship deal comes in at $100m and a key selling point of this is the exclusivity.

On a more national level, Team GB’s participation of International games is solely funded by private income, so Rule 40 allows the British Olympic Association to generate the much-needed income to fund our athletes.

It’s also important to note that in the UK we also have the Olympic Symbol Protection Act 1995 (“OSPA”) which provides special protection for various associated words, symbols and mottos, meaning that key properties, including the below, should generally not be used in advertising without permission:

  • “Tokyo 2020” / “Tokyo 2021” and the Tokyo 2020 emblems and mascots
  • The Olympic symbol
  • “Team GB” or the Team GB logo
  • The Olympic motto: Faster, higher, stronger or “citius, altius, fortius”
  • The words “Olympic, “Olympian”, “Olympiad” or anything similar
  • Images and footage of the games

All of the above also apply to the Paralympic Games.

There are a couple of exceptions to those rules – use of the above words in a factual manner which doesn’t suggest an association with the Games may be permitted. For example, a travel company offering holidays in Tokyo may mention editorially that the city is hosting the Olympic Games in July 2021.

However, use in advertising more prominently, or as part of a promotion or competition (e.g. “win a trip to the Olympics”) will not be accepted. Alongside this, tickets to the Games should NOT be used as part of any promotion, whether or not you use any protected words or logos as this is restricted by the ticket terms and conditions. It may also be a criminal offence in Tokyo.

If you want to know more about Rule 40, the British Olympic Association have put together a handy guide for brands and athletes alike here.

Here at Social, we’re behind all of the athletes taking part in this years’ games and the Paralympic games, and so we will be eagerly watching the events unfold over the next few weeks.

We work with teams such as British Taekwondo and British Karate to capture footage of their stellar athletes and coaching teams – check out some of our latest work with UK Sport here.