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Athletes caught between their sponsors and Olympic rules

SOCHI, Russia — Want to see the glasses and goggles that aerials skier Lydia Lassila and snowboarder Lindsey Jacobellis wore at the Sochi Olympics? If you go to the website of the company that manufactures their eyewear, you might be in for a shock.

On the Australian section of Bolle.com, photos of Lassila, Jacobellis, and other competitors at the Sochi Games have been digitally blurred to obscure their faces.

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This is not a throwback to the days when Soviet propaganda chiefs airbrushed people out of photos. It is an extreme application of regulations meant to make sure that companies such as Bolle, which do not sponsor the Olympics, do not get to advertise off the back of them. So the Olympics are a Pepsi-free zone, because Coca-Cola is an Olympic sponsor. In Sochi’s Olympic Park, only Visa cards work for payments or in ATMs, again because Visa is a sponsor. At one Sochi venue, an Olympic worker even slapped a white sticker over the Dell logo on a journalist’s laptop, because the computer manufacturer isn’t an Olympic sponsor.

For Olympians, the dense and confusing thicket of rules severely restricting advertising is a serious issue. Olympians could be disqualified if they use the Games to plug nonapproved brands. The International Olympic Committee even holds athletes responsible for how their sponsors behave outside the Olympic bubble.

The rules mean athletes cannot allow their images to be used for any commercial advertising for the duration of the blackout period.

Pandora, the jewelry company that sponsors US figure skaters Ashley Wagner and Gracie Gold, is not an Olympic sponsor. It has had to put on hold an advertising campaign it prepared with Gold and to stop running magazine ads that showed Wagner.

For Sochi, the rule applies from nine days before the opening ceremony until three days after the closing.

While the IOC has steadfastly defended the policy, the committee appears willing to consider changes in the future.

‘‘It’s up for discussion and debate,’’ IOC spokesman Mark Adams said. ‘‘It’s an open issue at the games. We’ll discuss it with all the stakeholders.’’

Gilbert Felli, the IOC’s executive director of the Olympic Games, said the rule would be reviewed just like all other aspects of the Games.

‘‘It’s like any rule,’’ he said. ‘‘If you aren’t happy about it, then we can talk about it.’’

Athletes are not all happy about such policies. US skier Ted Ligety called the rule barbaric. Before the blackout kicked in, he tweeted: ‘‘I want to give a shoutout to my sponsors that supported me for years yet aren’t allowed to get OLY love.’’

Lassila said she was even told during the aerials competition that she could not have her own name on her helmet.

‘‘I had to take that off,’’ she said. “That’s a bit excessive. It’s not a brand I’m trying to promote.’’

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