NEWS

Sponsors for Athens Games struggle against logo bandits

In a country where copyright infractions are a national sport, the Olympic Games offer Greek firms a golden opportunity to make a name for themselves, keeping organizers and sponsors busy putting the lid on Olympic copyright violations. The list of those who wish to grab a piece of Olympic glory without being really authorized to is long, according to Hector Verykios, in charge of Games’ sponsorship at Alpha, Greece’s second-largest commercial bank and grand sponsor of the Athens Olympics. «We’ve seen Olympic rings on chocolate boxes, olive tree branches in the shape of the Games’ organizers’ logo. In a television advertisement, another company rained down on viewers words like ‘glory, gold, victory’,» Verykios said. «Establishing a link between one’s company and the Games entails immediate publicity gains, just like with every other sporting event,» said on condition of anonymity the spokeswoman of a large Greek company which brought numerous sporting references into its recent advertising campaign. «Considering what they paid, it’s natural for them to jealously guard their privileges,» she told AFP about the sponsors. Alpha Bank has forked out around 70 million euros ($90 million) to count among the «grand sponsors» of the Games, alongside companies such as US fast food chain McDonalds, French computer firm Atos Origin and Korean carmaker Hyundai. Sponsors’ competitors have always pushed advertising creativity to the limits to profit from the Olympics. In the 1996 Atlanta Games, US sportswear maker Nike angered its rival, and official Games sponsor, Reebok. At the 2000 Sydney Olympics, credit card provider Visa had to defend itself against advertising inroads by competitor American Express. Others are more innovative. In the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Games, a brewery boosted its sales with the motto: «We are not a sponsor.» «The International Olympic Committee tells us Sydney was worse. But here, it’s on another scale – we are a country of small and midsized businesses,» Verykios said. «Olympic sales» cries a large poster from the shop window of a small shoemakers in downtown Athens. Violators usually step back once they get a slap on the wrist by Games organizers ATHOC, Verykios told AFP. «There were no problems and there will be no problems because we have taken all the necessary measures,» said ATHOC’s marketing director Yiorgos Bolos, who recalled only three major advertising violations within the last three months. ATHOC requested, and obtained, court injunctions against the advertising campaigns of a mobile telephony firm and a bank. Another injunction against a Greek bank is currently in the pipeline, Bolos said. ATHOC appointed a special task force to enforce Olympic advertising rules. Sponsors also do their own investigations. Since July 20 and until the end of the August 13-29 Games, only sponsors are allowed to advertise around Olympic venues. Wild-card advertisers are threatened with fines reaching 50,000 euros, even prison terms. But outside them, copyright protection is on a wing and a prayer. «The situation will be under control in the venues. But beyond, it’s going to be advertising jungle,» Verykios admitted. And Greeks’ pride to have invented the Games often leads them to involuntary copyright violations. «Alongside the lure of gain, there are also overzealous patriots who make use of Olympic symbols out of ignorance, always acting in good faith,» said Yiorgos Gakis, Greece’s Olympic Committee spokesman.