Michael Phelps‘ Annie Leibovitz-lensed Louis Vuitton ad campaign has been the source of much contention since it leaked to the press last week. First, it was over the choice of image (the bathtub one, at least): why did Phelps look so angry? What was that mysterious bubble in the water?
Next, it was a legal issue: the company claimed the photos were stolen and sent out an email demanding their removal from all websites. Finally, news outlets began reporting that by shooting the campaign Phelps was in violation of a International Olympic Committee regulation that prohibits participating athletes from appearing in ads for non-Olympic sponsors until August 15th of this year. Remember that sprinter whose unauthorized $500K watch raised rumors of harsh penalties during the Games? Kinda like that, but in print.
Speculation around the medal-stripping sanction attached to the regulation is, however, much ado about nothing, according to Phelps’ agent Peter Carlisle. He clarified to the Associated Press that the images were supposed to be kept under lock and key until this week, now that the ban has been lifted and the world’s most decorated Olympian is under no risk of retribution:
“He didn’t violate Rule 40, it’s as simple as that. 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.”
There you have it! No violations to see here, folks. Carlisle also revealed that this is hardly an uncommon phenomenon during the Games. This instance was merely more high profile than most, given Phelps’ celebrity and the international visibility of Louis Vuitton:
“I can’t count on every hand in this office the number of unauthorized uses that happen during the games period. We uncover them by the dozens. Some are by companies we don’t even know. It happens constantly.”
So you can heave a sigh of relief, Phelps fans. Sounds like your favorite 18-time gold medalist will be cropping up in magazines and billboards any day now. Just hopefully not in that creepy bathtub pose.