Property Rights After The Rio Olympics

Brady Wilson Associate, Property Rights Alliance

The world watched the Closing Ceremonies Sunday as the 2016 Olympic Games came to a close. The Rio Games showed us more than just feats of athleticism, they came with lessons of property rights in Brazil and around the world.  Here are four different elements of property rights to remember from the Games: 

1.       Land Rights

Building the stadiums and arenas to hold the competitions was no small task, nor is it a small amount of land. To make room for the Games as well as the World Cup two years ago, Rio grabbed property from its citizens. Since 1967, 20 acres of land made up the favela that 700 families called home until the government designated that area as a site for the Olympics. Citizens have begun to see these seizures of property as a violation of their constituted rights.  

More than just the property rights of one favela are on the line too. By some accounts, 75,000 Brazilians have been removed from their homes for major sporting events since 2009. That represents a major threat to the future of property rights in Brazil moving forward.  While Rio may claim that these rights were infringed on only to host the Games, it sets a bad precedent for the country moving forward. 

2.       Olympic Sponsor Trademark Protection

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) have been quick to defend their trademarks for the Olympics.  These trademarks include slogans, symbols, images, and even hashtags like “TeamUSA” and “#Rio2016.”  In fact, the committee has been so aggressive in defending its intellectual property that it has drawn claims of bullying businesses. 

The Olympic Committee has good reason to defend its trademarks too.  Becoming a sponsor of the Olympics costs $200 million.  In exchange for the fortune of becoming a sponsor, companies expect the sole rights to advertising at the Games. To keep non-sponsors from marketing at the Olympics, the IOC and USOC have issued several cease and desist orders.

There are nonlegal means of protection for the official sponsors as well: patriotic duct tape.  Michael Phelps and other athletes who wear Beats Headphones have to cover up the logos since Beats is not an official sponsor. Each time that Phelps stepped onto the pool deck for a race, his headphones were covered with three strips of American flag tape.

3.       Individual Athlete Sponsors

While companies can sponsor the entire Olympics, many professional athletes are sponsored as individuals by a company such as Nike or Under Armour.  This is where it gets tricky for athletes representing their country. For example, Michael Phelps is personally sponsored by Under Armour, yet must wear Nike during competitions, medal ceremonies, and other official functions since Nike sponsors the Olympics.   

It can be tricky for an athlete to navigate this loyalty to their individual sponsor while having to wear a competitor’s product which is shown by Phelps’s snafu of wearing Nike apparel for his photo shoot on the cover of Time. While Phelps’s partnership with Under Armour is probably safe given that he is the most decorated Olympian of all time, a mistake like that could cost a lesser-known athlete his sponsorship. 

4.       Counterfeits

According to US law, a counterfeit product is one that uses an unauthorized logo, name, or trademark and in Rio they are plentiful. People descend upon the city looking for a lasting souvenir.  Local businesses look to capitalize on the atmosphere by selling Olympic merchandise, but many are without official backing of the Olympic committees.  Products ranging from handkerchiefs to blocks of cocaine and marijuana have been seized by Brazil police with the unauthorized use of the Olympic Rings. 

Merchandise at Rio is a reminder that counterfeits cost $461 billion annually, according to the new OECD report. As the Olympics continue, tourists would be wise to avoid purchasing counterfeit goods which are of lesser quality, can be a funding source for crime, and in some instances the products themselves are dangerous. 

While athletes left Rio with Olympic medals, everyone else should take away the lessons of the importance of property rights around the world.