Olympic athletes advised not to sign UK Sport’s 2012 sponsorship deal
• Athletes set to lose up to £70,000 funding per year
• UK Sport scheme could clash with personal deals
guardian.co.uk, Thursday 9 April 2009 05.47
British athletes’ preparations for London 2012 have been hit by a row over sponsorship that could cost their sports tens of millions of pounds.
Lawyers have advised some of the country’s biggest Olympic stars not to sign the new Team 2012 contract, a move that would see the athletes forfeit public funding worth up to £70,000 each per year, according to The Times.
The contracts are part of a sponsorship scheme devised by the government to make up a £50m shortfall in funding but companies including Nike, BSkB and Siemens, which back athletics, cycling and rowing respectively, fear it would devalue their deals as it would make the athletes open to other sponsors.
Under the terms of the proposed contract athletes would have to promote corporate “partners”, selected from a list of 2012 sponsors that includes Lloyds Banking Group, adidas, EDF Energy and Samsung.
The drafting of the contract has been described as “appalling” and Richard Butcher, a solicitor at Payne Hicks Beach, who represents 16 sailors said the wording is unclear and appears to limit athletes’ ability to arrange their own sponsorship deals.
“There should be no doubt as to what a legal document means - it needs to be in plain English,” he said. “If athletes are going to win medals, it’s absolutely vital they get personal sponsors. Otherwise it’s unlikely that they will [win medals].” Another said: “I am not advising my client to sign it.”
Agents, whose clients include Christine Ohuruogu, Victoria Pendleton, Bradley Wiggins, Tom Daley, Sarah Ayton and Kelly Sotherton, say that Olympians’ future earning power will be limited. “Any athlete who sat down and read this properly would have an issue with it,” one agent is quoted as saying. “They’re signing their rights away to be used by pretty much whoever.”
It is understood that some athletes have already signed the contract. All 1,400 publicly funded athletes must agree to the terms to qualify for Lottery grants. Between 70 and 80 athletes are believed to be resisting it.
The contracts covering the Beijing Games expired at the end of last month and UK Sport said that Team 2012 was vital for funding the elite programme and that it will not conflict with existing deals or prevent athletes signing personal deals.
UK Sport said: “This is a new approach, and it is not surprising that some higher-profile athletes want a better understanding about what it means for them. The majority of athletes have not had any questions over this, and we are committed to finding resolution with those that have.”