Running is primal for tens of millions of people every day. It gives us energy, keeps us fit, gets us outdoors, creates time to think, offers personal challenge, delivers an opportunity to compete and gives us a good sweat. We know that every day will be better if we can get a few miles in. At the soul of this running lifestyle is the sport. When I meet people who have decided to pursue their dreams and passion for running as professional athletes, I’m inspired by them.
For these athletes, the commitment to compete at the highest level seems total to me. Add up the hours, days, months and years they’ve been at it, and it’s pretty clear it’s not just a hobby. Between making the commitment, putting in the effort, coming up through the ranks, proving their mettle and developing the ability to deliver consistent results, the bar is high and the obstacles are many. For every athlete who achieves world greatness, there are hundreds more who put it all on the line trying to get there.
So here we are on the eve of the big quadrennial sporting event and I am going to talk about an obscure topic called Rule 40 that is a product of the International Olympic Committee (IOC). We’re about one week into the blackout period of Rule 40 so now athletes can’t mention their non-Olympic sponsors. Likewise, non-Olympic sponsors can’t mention or show images of their athletes heading to Rio. (There are a number of athletes I want to wish good luck but I can’t!) In addition to the inability to mention their non-Olympic sponsors, those athletes and the rest of their teammates can’t mention other partners and companies that also helped them get to where they are at this moment.
At Brooks, inspiration from these athletes fuels our continued investment in the sport. Partnering with athletes and creating performance training and racing gear for them is ultimately intended to inspire millions of kids to start running. We all know that once they start, most will never stop. Over this last decade we’ve been honored to partner with two of the most successful professional running development programs in the sport: The Hansons-Brooks Original Distance Project and the Brooks Beasts. They continue to produce world-ranked athletes and inspire many to compete.
We believe running is one of the most democratic of all sports and the lifestyle truly becomes the sport of the people. The most prominent names in running will attract significant sponsorship support. The rub with Rule 40 is really about the hundreds of others behind those we see on the podium—those who are pursuing excellence and, when they achieve it, represent a “Cinderella” story. Those stories don’t happen unless they put in the years of work and sacrifice to get there. As we began to understand how significant the obstacles are for athletes to support themselves through their training, we looked for an opportunity lend a megaphone to their cause.
We launched rule40.com to draw attention to the restrictions it places on athletes and their ability to market themselves during the highest profile time of their running careers. rule40.com isn’t about Brooks. We wanted it focused on the athletes in the hopes that we create a broader conversation across the sport and all of the sponsors that support athletes to pursue their dreams. We wanted to bring forward the facts of the situation that so many athletes find themselves in and present them in a playful, tongue-in-cheek fashion. In the past few weeks, rule40.com has received support across multiple brands, sponsors and athletes through social media and interviews to highlight its negative impact. We hope it’s a good start to a bigger conversation.
We believe the rules have to change in order for athletes to benefit from the years they invest in their athletic careers. We can all participate in the debates on amateurism versus professionalism, the cost of producing the event, the impact on host cities, the exclusivity that sponsors need or the advanced waivers available to Rule 40 (and their effectiveness, or not), but we believe you have to measure it all on how it affects the athletes. And when you ask them, it’s clear that they believe they are held back by Rule 40.
So what’s next? We hope you’ll help decide. If you’ve read this far we know we’ve achieved one of our goals: generate awareness and a desire for change. We think at this amazing moment, every athlete should be able to personally leverage his or her earned success. We think Rule 40 should change and we hope you agree.