Team Canada may be forced to play without its familiar Maple Leaf logo at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, the victim of an International Olympic Committee rule that is only now being enforced.
The IOC regulation forbids sport federations from displaying their logos on uniforms at the Olympics, which includes Hockey Canada’s trademark Maple Leaf with a hockey player. Hockey Canada says it has been able to get around the rule in the past by having the Canadian Olympic Committee sign an exemption from Games uniform regulations.
But the COC says times have changed. The IOC strictly enforced its rules at the recent Beijing Games – notably with the Brazilian and Argentine soccer teams – and is expected to do the same in Vancouver.
“In the past three Winter Games, this wasn’t the same issue that it is now,” said Chris Rudge, the COC’s chief executive officer. “In those Games, the IOC turned a blind eye to its own rules. That’s no longer the case – they made that very clear going into Beijing.
“It was a test case in Beijing with the soccer teams and it was very clear from the IOC that the rules now are the rules and they’re not turning a blind eye to exemptions.”
That’s not good enough for Hockey Canada, which is unhappy at the COC stance.
“I can’t believe that they’re taking a chunk of history, especially when we’re hosting it in our country,” said Hockey Canada president Bob Nicholson. “They’re putting Team Canada at a disadvantage in its own country.”
Rudge, however, says such hand-wringing is premature as the IOC has yet to deliver its final uniform specification details. And he says it’s a matter to be resolved between the IOC and International Ice Hockey Federation.
A look at the Olympic Charter appears to back that notion. According to bylaw 1.6 of rule 51: “In case of special rules adopted by an international sports federation, exceptions to the rules mentioned above may be approved the IOC Executive Board.”
The IOC did not respond to requests for further clarification while an IIHF spokesman would only say that the “situation is sensitive” and that it hoped to “solve this issue to everyone’s satisfaction.”
Nicholson, however, believes the COC’s refusal to sign the same form as in past Games effectively kills any chance of Hockey Canada being able to use its logo on jerseys at the 2010 Games.
“Without that signature, it’s showing that Canada doesn’t support it so the IOC’s certainly not going to,” he said.
The issue is particularly important for Hockey Canada because it generates significant revenue through jersey sales and other sponsorships tied to the logo. No other Canadian sports federation would be impacted as strongly as it is by the rule.
“They’re going to disrupt a huge part of our business,” said Nicholson. “We give all of that money back to kids. We have not raised registrations for Hockey Canada for four or five years.
“And now because of this, that decision might happen.”
Other Canadian sports federations are affected by the rules in different ways.
Alpine Canada, for instance, says it was told by the COC that it will likely have to use red, white and black skinsuits at the 2010 Olympic competition in Whistler rather than the traditional yellow it has worn since the days of the Crazy Canucks.
Aside from the marketing issues, that kind of change would require new suits that would come at a cost of roughly $75,000.
“I don’t think the COC really realized it when they came up with some of their guidelines, but our suit is a very specialized piece of equipment – as important as our skis or our skiboots,” Alpine Canada president Gary Allan said in a recent interview. “The material is proprietary and the design of the suit is proprietary.
“If the COC wanted to go out and recreate a special suit for us – using our design team and the company in Switzerland that actually manufactures the suits for Spyder – we’d be open and receptive to having them do that.”
With every federation having its own interests, the COC doesn’t want to risk opening a Pandora’s Box by making extraordinary efforts for one body over another.
“I’m not sure why we would treat one of our federations different from all of the other federations in a unique situation like this,” said Rudge. “That would seem to be unfair to everyone else in sport.”
But Nicholson believes Hockey Canada’s case is different.
No Canadian sports federation’s logo is more recognizable and no jersey more apart of the program. Canadian hockey teams have won one Olympic men’s gold, two Olympic women’s gold and numerous world championships at all other levels while wearing the logo.
“I think it’s the most important piece of apparel that a player puts on,” said Nicholson.
Rudge, on the other hand, doesn’t buy it.
“At the end of the day, I think it’s about getting the best team on the ice and doing everything we can to support that team,” he said. “I can’t imagine there’s a hockey player in this country who wouldn’t be proud to wear his country’s Olympic jersey.”