WASHINGTON — The International Olympic Committee has expressed no concern over a Russian state television program that warned of a "homosexualist invasion" last week, in contrast to decades of practice in which it feverishly protected its brand.
A spokesperson for the IOC said the group did not support the ideas in the program, which aired on state-run television and featured the Olympic logo throughout, while presenting LGBT activism as a western plot threatening the Russian state.
"The IOC believes there is no place for homophobia or discriminatory views of any nature in the Olympic Movement," Emmanuelle Moreau, the IOC head of media relations, told BuzzFeed. Yet she dismissed concerns from Russian and international activists that some of the report's content came from the state's bugging of private meetings. "Having watched the programme, it is unclear what, if any, of the footage was collected illegally," Moreau said.
She continued, "The IOC in no way shares the discriminatory views expressed by some participants in this programme. The channel has acquired the right to broadcast the Sochi Games in the host country and has the symbol on display throughout its programming, but it does not indicate any IOC endorsement of the views expressed."
That statement seems to contradict past remarks and practice by the IOC and its president, Thomas Bach, which have identified brand-protection as a top priority for Olympic organizers.
In discussing the IOC's marketing and TV efforts in the "manifesto" he presented while running his ultimately successful campaign for IOC president earlier this year, Bach repeatedly stressed that television could advance the Olympic brand and its principles.
Regarding "selling our TV rights," he wrote, the IOC's "ultimate objective has to be the universal promotion of the Olympic Games and of our values." The IOC also should, he wrote, "continue to explore options for a greater TV presence for Olympic sports and its values during the periods between Olympic Games."
Brand management was also identified as a key concern following the 2008 games in Beijing.
In its final report for the Beijing games, the IOC Coordinating Commission stated that "[m]anaging the Games' image and reputation was undoubtedly one of the most delicate and challenging aspects of the Games that the organisers and the IOC were required to face together." Regarding the Olympic symbols themselves, it concluded, "Unfortunately, certain events on the international route of the Olympic Torch Relay attracted public criticism and resulted in misappropriation of the Games symbols," the report said, referring to human rights protests staged along the route. The commission noted for future Olympics that "important lessons must be learned from this experience."
These statements reflect the attitude that has been demonstrated in legal action by national Olympic committees going back at least thirty years. In recent decades, Olympic affiliates have sought to block many different groups from using the games in ways it believes degrades their brand and what it represents. These include:
The United States Olympic Committee [USOC] went to court in the early 1980s to prevent San Francisco Arts and Athletics Inc. from holding a sporting event billed as the "Gay Olympic Games."
The case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ultimately ruled 7-2 against San Francisco Arts and Athletics, establishing that the USOC has broad protections for its brand well beyond normal control over its logo and other branding materials normally granted to corporations. The court also rejected San Francisco Arts and Athletics argument that it was making a political statement about the marginalization of gays and lesbians.
The event continues as the Gay Games.
In 2012, the USOC sent a cease-and-desist letter to an online group of knitting enthusiasts organizing an event they call the "Ravelympics."
The event was a reprise of a campaign they ran in 2008 and 2010 to get people to complete special knitting projects during the two weeks in which the Olympics are held. To keep participants motivated, they organized teams and held competitions like "scarf hockey" and "sock put."
Some 7,500 people had signed up in 2012 when the organizers got the USOC letter.
"We believe using the name 'Ravelympics' for a competition that involves an afghan marathon, scarf hockey and sweater triathlon, among others, tends to denigrate the true nature of the Olympic Games," the USOC wrote. "It is disrespectful to our country's finest athletes and fails to recognize or appreciate their hard work."
In the lead-up to the 2012 Games, the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games (LOCOG) got an online group that billed itself as "the Official Protesters of the London 2012 Olympic Games" suspended from Twitter.
The account, @spacehijackers, was run by anti-capitalist activists who had targeted other corporations before taking aim at the Olympics, which they described as "a big corporate party." It also spoofed the 2012 logo in its Twitter avatar and wallpaper.
In May 2012, Space Hijackers got an email from Twitter's Trust and Safety team announcing, "We have received reports from the trademark holder, London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games Ltd, that your account, @spacehijackers, is using a trademark in a way that could be confusing or misleading with regard to a brand affiliation. Your account has been temporarily suspended due to violation of our trademark policy."
The organizers also asked the Great Exhibition 2012, an event being held in London to celebrate British culture, to remove "2012" from its name.
In 2009, the USOC tried to block the new owners of The Olympian, a newspaper that had been publishing in Olympia, Washington for 149 years, from trademarking its name.
McClatchy Co. submitted a trademark application to the patent office after it acquired the paper in 2006. USOC lawyers fought back, arguing in filings opposing the application that the paper's name and logo would tend "to cause confusion or mistake, to deceive, and to falsely suggest a connection" to the Olympic Games that threaten "relationships with its licensees, its partners and its sponsors, and thereby, its main source of revenue to support U.S. athletes."
J. Lester Feder is a world correspondent for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC. His secure PGP fingerprint is 2353 DB68 8AA6 92BD 67B8 94DF 37D8 0A6F D70B 7211
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Chris Geidner is a Supreme Court correspondent for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC.
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