A lawyer’s guide to the Olympics

17 August, 2016
by: Cripps Pemberton Greenish

Friday, 5 August saw the lighting of the Olympic cauldron by Vanderlei de Lima (if you don’t already know his story, look him up). This was the culmination of a 95 day relay in which the Olympic flame was carried by around 12,000 people, each of whom had to ensure they were not responsible for accidentally extinguishing this international symbol of goodwill.

But what has this to do with law?

Well, for all that the torch and flame are an immediately recognisable part of the Olympics, behind these influential symbols lays some no less powerful – if rather less glamorous – legislation.

In fact, for every part of the Olympics from the construction of the stadiums, to an athlete’s eligibility to compete, to the use of the words ‘Olympic Games’, there exists a framework of legal rules and regulations. Law is what makes the world, if not go round, at least stay on its axis (if you ask a lawyer, at least) and the Olympics are no different.

Read on for just a few examples:

Intellectual Property

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) owns the Olympic flag, motto, anthem, identifiers, designations, emblems, flame and torches (try saying all that in one go) and has exclusive rights to these Olympic properties. Before they will be awarded the Games, bidding countries must commit to enacting IP legislation granting these Olympic properties special trademark protection. It’s no surprise, really, as sponsorship is integral to ensuring the continued financial viability of the Games. Strong protection is also a consequence of the growing method of ‘ambush marketing’, whereby a body unofficially associates itself with an event (and without paying official sponsorship fees).


In a similar vein, the contract between the IOC and the host city requires that legislation be in place to restrict and control advertising space, marketing and outdoor trading. At London 2012, restrictions were placed on businesses advertising or trading in any of the 27 ‘Event Zones’ near Olympic venues, with some exceptions. Specified restricted activities ranged from distributing promotional documents to the displaying of an advertisement on, carried or held by an animal.


The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) is an international body established to settle sports related disputes through arbitration. Under the Olympic Charter (which governs, essentially, everything to do with the Olympics – and is available to read online), any dispute arising in connection with the Games must be submitted exclusively to CAS. Temporary courts are established in each current Olympic host city and, unless you have been hiding under a photocopier, you will know that CAS has been kept very busy recently. In seven days it heard as many appeals as were registered for the entirety of London 2012. Amongst these, CAS upheld a ban preventing a significant number of Russian athletes from competing in the Games following doping allegations. However, it also overturned a decision (made under the Osaka rule, which aimed to stop those who had previously served serious doping bans from competing in future Olympics) that would have prevented other athletes with historic offences from taking part in Rio.


The Olympics are a key time for development and regeneration. It is estimated that R$7.07bn (that’s around £1.7b) has been spent building venues at Rio. With so much investment, it is crucial to try to keep the buildings in use after the Games have moved on, and this often takes place by way of redevelopment and/or change of use. London’s own athlete’s village has been turned into a residential village comprising both normal market rent and affordable housing. In Rio, the tennis centre will continue to be used for international competitions whilst the Carioca Arena will become a school.

Finally, Cripps Pemberton Greenish is hosting its own four week sporting challenge: we are currently walking, running, swimming and cycling 5,767 miles (the distance between sunny Tunbridge Wells and sunnier Rio de Janeiro) to raise money for Alzheimer’s Society. See next week’s blog for a full report but, in the meantime, why not visit our Just Giving page for more information and updates: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/GetCrippstoRio