Olympic athletes earn the right to market themselves during 2020 Games

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It has been an Olympic tradition every bit as predictable as the torch relay.

Before every Games, athletes would complain about a regulation that prevented them from marketing themselves at a time when they could reap the biggest profits.

Now the controversial Rule 40 is changing.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee announced it is following the International Olympic Committee’s lead in relaxing the long-standing regulation for the 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo.

Previously, no competitor could allow his or her name or likeness to be used for advertising purposes during a period that began just before the Olympics and extended several days after the closing ceremony. That meant only big-money IOC sponsors could benefit; any endorsement deals that athletes negotiated on their own were shut out.

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The USOPC will now allow American athletes to publicly thank their sponsors during the Games. Sponsors can likewise issue congratulatory messages and produce generic advertisements.

Olympic and national team logos are still off-limits and sponsors must sign a contract that opens the door to penalties if they violate the terms of the revised arrangement.

“This guidance enables athlete opportunities in an entirely new way and is a sign of great progress,” said Han Xiao, a former table tennis player who serves as chairman of the USOPC’s athletes’ advisory council.

The rule was created by the IOC to make endorsements more valuable to corporations that pay millions for exclusive rights. The IOC agreed to alterations over the summer.