POSTED: August 25th 2010

NEIL WILSON: Why playing with the 'O word' can prove a dangerous game

THE NEIL WILSON COLUMN / An exclusive, authoritative series from Sports Features Communications

LONDON, Aug 25: It may surprise you to know that the British Olympic Association has entered into negotiations with the International Olympic Committee to obtain permission to use the word Olympic. Odd, you might consider, when it is a part of its title and has been for 104 years.

The BOA wishes to have the word Olympic used in the context of the British Government’s planned event for school-children, a nation-wide competition in which the National Lottery is willing to invest £10 million to give 2012 an additional legacy.

A noble cause, you might think, and fully in keeping with the IOC founder’s intentions of promoting physical education.

The IOC, however, must be persuaded of that. It guards the word – ‘the O word’, as the BOA’s former ceo Simon Clegg used to call it – jealously. Indeed, in almost every major market in the world the word is protected by law. Use it carelessly, as a Californian organisation once did on an event they wished to name the Gay Olympics, and the weight of the law descends. In that case the Supreme Court of the United States.

Shipping snag

So rigorous is the IOC in guarding its rights that website operators are required to prevent their users from copying, down-loading or saving the Olympic logos. Right clink on an Olympic logo and the site owners are required to deliver a pop-up notice detailing copy-right.

The latest company to be jumped upon from a great height is the shipping giant P&O. It wished to name two new ships, Olympic Spirit and Olympic Pride. It even appointed double Olympic champion Dame Kelly Holmes as ‘godmother’ to the first. LOCOG’s lawyers intervened. Holmes’ ship  this month became Spirit of Britain.

At present the BOA does not own the word itself. It sold it to LOCOG, the organiser of the 2012 Olympic Games, for marketing purposes, retaining only the right in its own name and for its annual fund-raising Olympic Ball. The right reverts to it only after 2012. 

So, on the Government’s behalf,   Lord Moynihan, the BOA chairman, quietly approached Jacques Rogge, the IOC president, when he was in London recently. A meeting in Lausanne will follow soon, more possibly in London.

It will take time, and ultimately the best that may emerge is a silly compromise title like the British Olympic Association Schools Games. Which immediately, of course, will be corrupted by the media to Schools Olympics.

Sponsor value

The IOC’s genuine concern is that to give Moynihan and Britain permission, which they might to do, would open the flood-gates. Every school event around the world would want to use the word. It would be debased, cheapened and become of less value to its sponsors.

Ironically, there are companies able to use the O word. Those who were using it before the IOC copyrighted it. Olympic Airways in Greece is one.

More amusing is the case of the American manufacturer, Olympic Paint. It even has a paint brush styled like an Olympic torch as its logo, a flagrant transgression. The IOC cannot touch it. It has existed since 1883, 11 years before the IOC even existed.

NEIL WILSON reported his first Olympic Games in Munich in 1972. He has since covered another nine summer and nine winter Olympics for various newspapers, including The Independent and the Daily Mail with whom he has worked for the last 19 years as Athletics and Olympic correspondent. He was Britain's Sports Journalist of the Year in 1984 and is the author of seven books.

Keywords · Neil Wilson · IOC · Olympic · BOA · Moynihan

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