Michael Phelps retired from swimming with more medals than any other Olympian. Don’t expect him to lose any of them because of ad campaign for Louis Vuitton.
Phelps’ longtime agent, Peter Carlisle, dismissed any suggestion Friday that the retired swimmer may have violated International Olympic Committee rules when provocative pictures for the campaign were leaked on the Internet during the London Games.
The IOC, under a provision known as Rule 40, prohibits athletes from promoting non-official sponsors during a nearly monthlong period around the games. Among the possible sanctions: stripplng medals won by an offending athlete.
Carlisle told The Associated Press there’s no issue with the IOC because Phelps did not authorize use of the pictures, which were leaked by a source that still isn’t known and appeared on several websites. In fact, the agent added, there are dozens of similar, unapproved uses of most top athletes’ names and images during any Olympics.
“He didn’t violate Rule 40, it’s as simple as that,” Carlisle said in a telephone interview. “All that matters is whether the athlete permitted that use. That’s all he can control. In this case, Michael did not authorize that use. The images hadn’t even been reviewed, much less approved. It’s as simple as that. An athlete can’t control unauthorized uses any more than you can guarantee someone isn’t going to break into your house.”
The ad campaign, which revolves around pictures taken by famed photographer Annie Leibovitz, officially began on Thursday — the day after the IOC ban ended. Among the pictures: one that shows Phelps in a bathtub, wearing only goggles and a skimpy brief, another that depicts him sitting on a sofa, wearing a three-piece suit and chatting with former Soviet gymnast Larisa Latynina, whose record for most overall medals he broke at the London Games.
“I can’t count on every hand in this office the number of unauthorized uses that happen during the games period,” Carlisle said. “We uncover them by the dozens. Some are by companies we don’t even know. It happens constantly.”
Phelps won four golds and two silvers at what he insisted was his final Olympics, raising his career totals to 18 golds, two silvers and two bronzes. The 27-year-old American retired as soon as he finished his final race in Britain.
Carlisle expects his client to still be a force in the world of marketing. Look no further, he said, that the Louis Vuitton campaign, in which Phelps is following other iconic figures such as Sean Connery, Bono and Mikhail Gorbachev.
“In many ways, this is one of the greatest illustrations of how Michael has transcended swimming, and arguably even sports,” Carlisle said. “Only global icons are even included in that campaign. If you go through the list of celebrities who’ve been part of it, it’s pretty remarkable.”