Fort Lauderdale track star Sanya Richards-Ross said Monday that the Twitter campaign she helped launch marks the start of Olympians getting their voices heard on a policy that restricts how they can promote themselves during the Olympic Summer Games.
Richards-Ross and numerous other athletes posted tweets Sunday that protested an International Olympic Committee policy that bars them from using their names or likenesses for advertising during the London 2012 Summer Games and just before and after them.
“Only 2 percent of U.S. athletes are able to tweet about their sponsors because only 2 percent of U.S. athletes have USOC or IOC sponsors. So that leaves out 98 percent of my peers. And so we are disgruntled about that,” Richards-Ross said about Rule 40 at a press conference in London’s Olympic Park.
Richards-Ross, who is endorsed by Nike and BMW, said she has been “very fortunate to do really well around the Olympics” – but many of her peers struggle.
People see the athletes at their best for the two-plus weeks of the Olympics, said the sprinter, who is a favorite for gold in the 400 meters. She will also compete in the 200 meters.
“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. The majority of track and field athletes don’t have sponsors and don’t have support to stay in the sport,” said Richards-Ross, 27. “A lot of my peers have second and third jobs to be able to do this. And that’s just unfortunate. And so it was a concerted effort.”
The IOC says that it only trying to protect the money that comes into the Olympics movement, and notes that it directs 94 percent of the commercial revenue it receives back into sports.
"A huge number of 10,500 athletes who are here would understand why we are doing this," spokesman Mark Jones said. "For one month, we ask them not to endorse products not related to the Olympics that don't actually give money back to the movement."
Richards-Ross said it is unjust that her lower-profile peers are not considered or part of the conversation for Rule 40. It is an issue for American athletes and those from around the globe, she said.
“At the end of the day, the most important thing, the reason that we’re here is to represent our countries and to run well, so we don’t want that to distract from that, but we do believe that this is our only opportunity and our only platform,” she said. “So last night was just kind of the start of us wanting to get our voices heard – but definitely not take away from the main reason that we’re here.”
Richards-Ross ran locally for St. Thomas Aquinas High School. She won gold medals on the 4x400-meter relay teams in Athens and Beijing, and took a bronze in the 400-meter final in 2008 – a disappointing performance after she faltered late.
Richards-Ross said the Jacksonville Jaguars are allowing her husband, cornerback Aaron Ross, to come over to watch her compete at a major championship for the first time, for the semifinals and finals of the 400-meter.
“To just know that he’s going to be in the stands when I step on the track for that final is going to mean the world to me. And I’m very appreciative to the organization,” she said.