Foto1By Carlos Castro, Senior Copyright Legal Counsel, International Olympic Committee

The Olympic Charter constitutes Olympism’s lex scripta and is the repository of the fundamental principles and values of Olympism. It comprises the Rules and Bye-laws enacted by the International Olympic Committee and their revisions and amendments.

The main purpose of the Olympic Charter is to establish the framework in which the Olympic Movement is organised, while defining its various procedures and operations.

The Olympic Charter establishes the conditions and minimum requirements under which the Olympic Games are organised and celebrated. It also serves as the Statutes of the International Olympic Committee, and defines the rights and obligations of the constituents of the Olympic Movement.

The Olympic Movement

The main constituents of the Olympic Movement, together with the International Olympic Committee, are the International Federations and the National Olympic Committees, which, in addition to the Organising Committees for the Olympic Games, the national associations, clubs and people belonging to the International Federations and the National Olympic Committees and other organisations and institutions recognised by the International Olympic Committee, are all bound by the Rules and Bye-Laws of the Olympic Charter and must abide by the decisions of the International Olympic Committee.

The core and fundamental element and interest of the Olympic Movement’s action are the athletes, judges, referees, coaches and other sports officials and technicians. Its main goal is to contribute to building a peaceful and better world by educating young people through the practice of sport, in accordance with Olympism and its values.


Olympism is a philosophy of life, exalting and combining in a balanced whole the qualities of body, will and mind. The goal of Olympism is to place sport at the service of the harmonious development of human kind.

Olympism is expressed through actions which link sport to culture and education. Olympism seeks to create a way of life based on the joy found in effort, the educational value of good example and respect for universal fundamental ethical principles. This philosophy is an essential element of the Olympic Movement and the celebration of the Games, and is also what makes them unique.

The pursuit of the ideal of Olympism and the other “fundamental principles of Olympism”, as set out in the Olympic Charter, gives rise to a series of values, which are applicable both on the field of play and in everyday life.

The International Olympic Committee has identified the following three Olympic values:

  • Excellence: In the Olympic ideal, this value refers to giving one’s best, on the field of play or in life, without measuring oneself against others, but above all aiming to reach one’s personal objectives with determination in the effort. It is not so much about winning, but mainly about participating, making progress against personal goals, striving to be and to do our best in our daily lives and benefiting from the combination of a strong body, will and mind.
  • Friendship: Men and women are at the centre of the Olympic Movement’s focus on encouraging the links and mutual understanding between people. This value broadly refers to building a peaceful and better world through solidarity, team spirit, joy and optimism in sport. The Olympic Games inspire humanity to overcome political, economic, gender, racial or religious differences and forge friendships in spite of those differences. The athletes express this value by forming life-long bonds with their team-mates, as well as their opponents.
  • Respect: In the Olympic ideal, this value represents the ethical principle that should inspire all who participate in the Olympic programmes. It includes respect for oneself and one’s body, respect for one another, for rules and for the environment. It thus refers to the fair play that each athlete has to display in sport, as well as avoiding doping. 

The International Olympic Committee 

The International Olympic Committee, as established by the Olympic Charter, is the supreme authority and leader of the Olympic Movement. It is an international non-governmental not-for-profit organisation, in the form of an association with the status of a legal person, recognised by the Swiss Federal Council.

The International Olympic Committee was founded in Paris, France, on 23 June, after the successful conclusion of the International Congress in 1894. The International Congress was held under the auspices of the Union des Sociétés françaises des Sports athlétiques and at the request of Mr Adolphe de Pallissaux and Baron Pierre de Coubertin. The main purpose of the International Congress was to reach a decision on the restoration of the Olympic Games.

For more than 100 years, the headquarters of the International Olympic Committee have been in Lausanne, Switzerland, after moving from its first location in Pierre de Coubertin’s house in Paris, France, on 15 April 1915.

As per the first Olympic Charter published in 1908 under the title of Annuaire du Comité International Olympique, after the International Congress had entrusted the International Olympic Committee with the mission of ensuring the development of the Olympic Games, it was established that the International Olympic Committee’s “Purpose” was to:

1º ensure the regular celebration of the Games; 2º make this celebration increasingly perfect, worthy of its glorious past and consistent with the highest ideals that inspired their renovators; 3º to cause or organise all the events and, in general, to take all the necessary measures to steer modern athletics into the desirable routes”.

The International Olympic Committee’s essential role is to act as a catalyst for collaboration between all parties of the Olympic family, from the National Olympic Committees, the International Sports Federations, the athletes and the Organising Committees for the Olympic Games, to the TOP partners, broadcast partners, the various United Nations agencies and other intergovernmental organisations.

It is still the International Olympic Committee’s responsibility to ensure the regular celebration of the Olympic Games; while it also provides support to all affiliated member organisations of the Olympic Movement and promotes the Olympic values by facilitating and allocating the adequate and necessary means to that end.

As set forth in Rule 2 of the Olympic Charter, in detail, the role of the International Olympic Committee is:

  • to encourage and support the promotion of ethics in sport as well as education of youth through sport and to dedicate its efforts to ensuring that, in sport, the spirit of fair play prevails and violence is banned;
  • to encourage and support the organisation, development and coordination of sport and sports competitions;
  • to ensure the regular celebration of the Olympic Games;
  • to cooperate with the competent public or private organisations and authorities in the endeavour to place sport at the service of humanity and thereby to promote peace;
  • to take action in order to strengthen the unity and to protect the independence of the Olympic Movement;
  • to act against any form of discrimination affecting the Olympic Movement;
  • to encourage and support the promotion of women in sport at all levels and in all structures with a view to implementing the principle of equality of men and women;
  • to lead the fight against doping in sport;
  • to encourage and support measures protecting the health of athletes;
  • to oppose any political or commercial abuse of sport and athletes;
  • to encourage and support the efforts of sports organisations and public authorities to provide for the social and professional future of athletes;
  • to encourage and support the development of sport for all;
  • to encourage and support a responsible concern for environmental issues, to promote sustainable development in sport and to require that the Olympic Games are held accordingly;
  • to promote a positive legacy from the Olympic Games to the host cities and host countries;
  • to encourage and support initiatives blending sport with culture and education; and
  • to encourage and support the activities of the International Olympic Academy and other institutions which dedicate themselves to Olympic education.

The Olympic Games 

As defined by the Olympic Charter in its Rule 6, the Olympic Games are competitions between athletes in individual or team events and not between countries. They bring together the athletes selected by their respective National Olympic Committees, whose entries have been accepted by the International Olympic Committee. They compete under the technical direction of the International Federations concerned. The Olympic Games consist of the Games of the Olympiad and the Olympic Winter Games. 

The first ancient Olympic Games can be traced back to 776 B.C. until almost 12 centuries later in 393 A.D., when they were proscribed by Emperor Theodosius for being “pagan cults”, due to their dedication and devotion to the Olympian gods. Whilst the Olympic Games had a secular character, they were closely linked to the religious festivals of the cult of Zeus.

The ancient Games were staged in the central Peloponnese, in Olympia, Greece, which, in fact, was not a city but a meeting place for those who made the pilgrimage and travelled there every four years for the celebration of the Olympic Games, ceasing to exist in 394 A.D. after the Games were banned. It also served as a meeting place for worship and other religious and political practices.

The International Olympic Committee Rights on the Olympic Games

The International Olympic Committee, as the main body responsible within the Olympic Movement for enhancing its values and for providing material support in the efforts to organise and disseminate the Olympic Games and to ensure their regular celebration, has been assigned the ownership of all rights in and to the Olympic Games and the Olympic properties.

In accordance with Rule 7 of the Olympic Charter, the International Olympic Committee is granted the exclusive ownership of all rights in and to the Olympic Games and, in particular, all intellectual property rights thereto. Specifically, the International Olympic Committee owns all rights relating to the organisation, exploitation and marketing of the Olympic Games.

The International Olympic Committee has the exclusive right and faculty to authorise the capture of still and moving images of the Olympic Games and the audio-visual registrations and recordings of the Olympic Games for use by the media. Moreover, the International Olympic Committee retains the exclusive right to broadcast, transmit, retransmit, reproduce, display, disseminate, make available or otherwise communicate to the public, works or signals embodying audio-visual registrations or recordings of the Olympic Games. 

The Olympic Properties

The Olympic properties are composed of the Olympic symbol; flag; motto; anthem; identifications (including but not limited to “Olympic Games” and “Games of the Olympiad”); designations; emblems; flame and torches, as defined in Rules 8 to 14 of the Olympic Charter; and any other musical work; audio-visual work or other creative work or artefact specifically commissioned in connection with the Olympic Games by the International Olympic Committee, its affiliated entities and subsidiaries and/or the Organising Committees for the Olympic Games.

All rights of intellectual property to the Olympic properties, as well as all rights to the use thereof, belong exclusively to the International Olympic Committee, including but not limited to their use for any profit-making, commercial or advertising purposes.

In accordance with the terms and conditions set forth by the International Olympic Committee’s Executive Board, the International Olympic Committee may license all or part of its rights to the Olympic properties.

The Olympic properties serve as the visual, perceivable and recognisable ambassadors of Olympism and its values. In particular, the Olympic symbol, as seen by millions of people worldwide among others throughout the Olympic Games, is one of the world’s most recognised global brands, with 95 per cent recognition. Moreover, the Olympic symbol is associated with the terms global, unity, peace, friendship and the five continents.

The Olympic symbol was designed and presented for the first time by Baron Pierre de Coubertin in 1914 during the International Olympic Committee’s 20th anniversary celebration of the birth of the modern Olympic Movement.

The Olympic symbol consists of five interlinked rings of equal size (the Olympic rings), used alone, in one or in five different colours. The Olympic symbol expresses the activity of the Olympic Movement and represents the union of the five continents and the meeting of athletes from throughout the world at the Olympic Games, and symbolises the Olympic values: striving for excellence, demonstrating respect and celebrating friendship.

The Protection of the Olympic Properties

The Olympic properties have become iconic – they are more than just a “logo”. People around the world associate them with the fundamental values of sport and of the Olympic Movement.

Due to their honoured place on the world stage and their relevance for the Olympic Movement, it is essential that the International Olympic Committee protect the Olympic properties at the international level.

Numerous countries have adopted permanent national legislation for the protection of some of the Olympic properties. Although the Olympic Movement’s efforts have contributed to the implementation of legislation, it has mainly been due to the understanding of those Parliaments, that have adopted such measures, of the importance of sport, Olympism and the Olympic Movement, as well as the need to protect the properties related to them.

Adopting specific legislation has also proved necessary in countries that host an edition of the Olympic Games. Such legislation not only concerns the protection of the Olympic properties, but it also provides the means to fight against ‘ambush marketing’, among other things.

The first specific legislation related to an edition of the Olympic Games appeared in Canada prior to the Montreal 1976 Olympic Games. Since the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games, all host countries have adopted this sort of legislation.

In relation to the London 2012 Olympic Games, the Parliament of the United Kingdom adopted the “London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games Act 2006”; whilst, with respect to the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games in the Russian Federation, the State Duma and the Federation Council adopted the “Federal Law on the Organisation and Holding of the ХХII Olympic Winter Games and the XI Paralympic Winter Games 2014 in Sochi city, the Development of Sochi city as a Mountain Climate Resort and the Amendment of Certain Legislative Acts of the Russian Federation”.

This legislation extended legal protection to all the properties associated with the London 2012 Olympic Summer Games and the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games. Moreover, it prohibited any entity from associating itself, or its products or services, with the Olympic Games to gain a commercial advantage, unless expressly authorised to do so by the corresponding Organising Committee. Such laws provided the local authorities and the Organising Committees with the means to fight ‘ambush marketing’ efficiently, and to prevent the unauthorised sale of Olympic tickets and regulate other activities related to the Olympic Games.

Within the international legal framework, the International Olympic Committee also benefits from an exceptional international legal instrument that protects the Olympic symbol.

On 26 September 1981 in Nairobi, Kenya, the Member States of the World Intellectual Property Organisation adopted the Nairobi Treaty on the Protection of the Olympic Symbol.

The Nairobi Treaty obliges each State party that has ratified it to refuse or invalidate the registration as a mark and to prohibit the use for commercial purposes of any sign consisting of or containing the Olympic symbol, except with the International Olympic Committee’s authorisation.

The ratification of the Nairobi Treaty by a State party implies that a subsequent authorisation is granted by the International Olympic Committee to the corresponding National Olympic Committee of that State to use the Olympic symbol within such State’s territory. Moreover, such National Olympic Committee is entitled to a part of any revenue that the International Olympic Committee obtains for the authorised use of the Olympic symbol within such territory.

The Nairobi Treaty is open to any State member of the World Intellectual Property Organisation, the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property, the United Nations or any of the specialised agencies in a relationship with the United Nations. The Nairobi Treaty does not provide for the institution of a Union, governing body or budget, and is administered by the World Intellectual Property Organisation and, as such, instruments of ratification, acceptance, approval or accession must be deposited with the Director General of the World Intellectual Property Organisation, which is based in Geneva, Switzerland.

The International Olympic Committee is the worldwide owner of numerous intellectual property registrations protecting the Olympic properties. In particular, with respect to trademark registration, while this might seem logical, the International Olympic Committee had to wait almost 100 years before it could register trademarks under its own name.

Prior to 1993, numerous national trademark laws (including those in the Swiss Confederation, where the International Olympic Committee is based) reserved the right to register trademarks only for commercial companies.

As a not-for-profit organisation in the form of an association, the International Olympic Committee had to wait for the harmonisation of European law and the modification of Swiss law to the effect that any entity could register a trademark under its own name.

The International Olympic Committee has applied and obtained various trademark registrations, in particular through the WIPO Madrid system, relating to its permanent properties (which are common to each edition of the Olympic Games), such as the Olympic symbol and the words “Olympic”, “Olympiad” and “Olympic Games”.

It also seeks protection for identifiers related to a specific edition of the Olympic Games, such as the official emblem of that edition of the Olympic Games and the “City + Year” word mark, for example, “Rio 2016” and “PyeongChang 2018”.

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