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Will Rio be overshadowed by legal challenges?

Posted by: Laurence Simons 01/08/16
Rio’s Olympics will undoubtedly be testament not only to the breadth of Brazil’s vibrant culture but also a stark demonstration of unity for both the nation and entire world. However Brazil’s Olympic journey has been a somewhat troubled one. Against a background of economic and political instability, and considering recent legal concerns such as the doping scandal and Rule 40, it would be difficult not to envisage a number of legal challenges arising throughout the games.

Earlier this year Mario Andrada, a spokesman for the Rio 2016 Olympic committee described the issues challenging the country as “a perfect storm of a political crisis married with an intense economic crisis”. The political crisis to which he is referring is of course that of suspended President Dilma Rousseff’s impeachment trial, which is scheduled to take place during the Olympics. As a city Rio also has a number of complex factors to contend with, including the Zika outbreak, rising crime rates and concerns over the water supply.

Health concerns are rife for both athletes and visitors with the Zika virus and water contamination major concerns for those visiting Rio. The Brazilian government wholly insists that the Zika threat is manageable as long as visitors take precautions and have worked tirelessly to allay fears about the risk to both athletes and tourists, however the threat of water contamination remains incredibly prominent.

The Associated Press published revelations disclosing the extent to which Rio’s water sport venues are polluted and according to their figures pollution at some official locations measured up to 1.7 million times the level of what would be considered hazardous on a Southern California beach. Rio’s Olympic committee assured athletes that water would meet World Health Organisation standards, but if athletes fall ill and the water can be proven to fail to meet standard Rio’s organisers may leave themselves open to legal challenge.

Another significant legal issue is that of surrounding the recent amendments to Rule 40. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) made changes to Rule 40 to allow certain advertising involving Olympic athletes during the period of the Olympic Games, which had previously been against committee rules.

However the IOC has devolved approval rights to each country’s respective National Olympic Committee (NOC), which is partially where legal complications arise. Legal professionals have warned against potentially inconsistent approaches by different NOCs, and how these will be consistently managed in a games environment. Ambush marketing is also a real concern for athletes and non-approved sponsors, given that if a non-official sponsor were to tweet an athlete ‘good luck’ the participant may face sanctions.

It is also highly likely that the recent doping scandal will throw up a series of legal challenges. Despite the IOC not imposing a blanket ban on Russian athletes competing, it has ruled that Russian athletes who had served a doping ban would not be allowed to compete. World champion swimmer Yuliya Efimova has already announced that she will appeal against the IOC’s ruling, and is preparing a lawsuit to present at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).

Brazil has a mature and sophisticated legal environment, and although the market is dominated by South American firms, both national and boutique, a number of international practices do have a presence in São Paulo. Given the backdrop of such a games and the international attention it will receive, legal challenges both generalist and specific to the Rio games themselves will undoubtedly arise driving up local demand for legal guidance.

For further advice on the legal climate in Brazil please contact our Brazilian office at
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