Norway’s professional ski queen Marit Bjørgen and many of her fellow athletes earn money by selling themselves to commercial sponsors, but now one of them may cost Bjørgen the gold medal she won on the opening day of the Winter Olympics at Sochi.
Ludo Store, a Norwegian online sales site, is accused of breaking the strict advertising rules set by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) regarding athlete promotion during Olympic competition. The site continued to run an ad over the weekend in which Bjørgen endorses a ski storage rack, and the IOC considers that a clear violation of its sponsor regulations.
Ludo boss Idar Vollvik told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that Bjørgen has an agreement with the manufacturer of the ski rack, that the rack was among 30,000 products sold on the Ludo Store site and that the offending photos of Bjørgen standing next to the rack “have been lying on our site for two years.” Vollvik claimed he wasn’t aware that the ski rack ad featuring Bjørgen was running or that it amounted to an IOC violation that could strip Bjørgen of her medal.
According to the IOC, the photos of Bjørgen on Ludo Store should have been removed well before the Olympics began. They’ve been removed now, but not before the IOC reacted: “We have completely clear rules that everyone knows about, not least Norway’s Olympic Committee,” Gerhard Heiberg of the IOC told NRK. He didn’t blame Bjørgen but rather Ludo Store, claiming they should have known better than to keep featuring Bjørgen on the site as the Olympics got underway.
Officials at Norway’s national ski federation also were angry, putting the blame squarely on Ludo as well. “I am really tired of these cowboys who do what they want and misuse our athletes,” Bernt Halvard Olderskog, commercial leader at the federation (Norges Skiforbund), told NRK. “And it will have consequences for them. This case is being turned over to our lawyer.”
IOC rules forbid use of Olympic athletes from January 30 until February 26 this year. The only exceptions apply to official sponsors of national Olympic committees, which is why the Tine dairy coop in Norway, for example, can still use Bjørgen and other Norwegian sports heroes in its ads for milk and other Norwegian dairy products.
An angry Olderskog told NRK that neither Vollvik nor other Ludo officials can offer any legitimate excuses. Vollvik responded that he’s surprised the ski federation itself didn’t take direct contact with Ludo.
Vollvik stressed that Bjørgen’s photo and a video featuring her product endorsement have been removed from Ludo Store, but he claimed other promotional ads with Bjørgen are still floating around. Heiberg said that if that continues, Bjørgen may lose her medal. “That would be the ultimate consequence,” Heiberg told NRK, adding that he thinks it’s “just terrible” that companies “take such chances by breaking IOC rules.”