A proud moment for a now Rio-bound athlete and her sponsors turned sour this week when the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) asked that Oiselle pull photos of Kate Grace after winning the 800m at the Olympic Trials. 

Grace came first at the trials running a 1:59.10 and securing her place to this year’s Olympic Games. Not shockingly, her sponsor for the past five years posted photos of the moment. 

But USOC says that Oiselle’s photos of Grace running and posing at the U.S. Olympic Trials violates their rules banning brands other than their partners from using trademarked images. Basically, they take issue with the fact that the Olympic rings are visible on Grace’s Oiselle uniform in the pictures which were then posted to the brand’s Twitter and Instagram. According to USOC, by having the logos visible, Oiselle is engaging in Olympic-related advertising.  

According to The Orange County Register, on Tuesday, they demanded that brand remove their photos. They see the Seattle brand’s pictures as making it look like they are involved in Team USA branding. Nike is the selected brand for all Olympic-related apparel. 

U.S. Olympic Committee Guidelines

The rules surrounding this debacle are a little difficult to understand. Athletes were allowed to compete at the trials wearing the apparel of their sponsors.

But as USOC writes under their guidelines, “Under federal law, the USOC has the right to use and control the commercial use of trademarks and logos related to the Olympic, Paralympic and Pan American Games.” These trademarks and logos include the Olympic logos as well as the words Olympic, Olympian, Road to Rio, and others. “When others use USOC trademarks without proper authorization, the exclusivity of the USOC’s brand is threatened. Unauthorized use of USOC trademarks creates a disincentive for our partners to continue funding Team USA in exchange for those exclusive rights,” their guidelines explain. 

These rules have been set in place for awhile. At the moment, Oiselle has blurred the logo out of some images but the originals are still on their Instagram. CEO Sally Bergesen responded to the requests by writing a blog post on the company’s site.

“All photos of the Big Event in Eugene will need to be altered to remove any prohibited references to the Big Event in the Southern Hemisphere. Such references are included on the bib that is ironed onto the athletes’ competition kit,” she wrote. 

This isn’t the first time the women’s running apparel brand has come under fire for violating these rules. Before the Olympic Marathon trials, they put out a video using the language “Road to Rio.” USOC responded the same way. While this implies that the brand would have known about the rules, Bergesen has gone on record saying they won’t be bullied. Also to be noted is that other brands who posted photos of the trials were not asked to take theirs down. 

Elite athletes chime in

Canadian Oiselle-sponsored athlete Catherine Watkins expresses her frustration.

“Oiselle as a company has supported these athletes not only financially but has also provided emotional support,” she says. “I appreciate that Oiselle is standing up for their rights and their athlete rights by fighting USOC on this. Oiselle has stood by their athletes through their journeys and should be able to celebrate their successes without fear of retribution.”

Another athlete who chimed in on the debacle was Nick Symmonds. The 800m champion has become known for standing up against branding rules like this one. Last year, he missed the IAAF World Championships in Beijing because he refused to wear Nike. His comments are phrased in the tweet below. 

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