Canadian Olympic swimmer Julia Wilkinson has the Olympic rings tattooed on her hip. Gold medalist swimmer Dana Vollmer sports the Olympic rings across her lower back. American swimmer and Olympic legend Michael Phelps sports the Olympic rings on his right hip. While it once enforced a ban on athletes showing visible tattoos during Olympic Games, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has lightened up its rules. Paralympians may not be so lucky, however.
According to Reuters, British Paralympic swimmer and gold medalist Josef Craig was reportedly disqualified from a race at the recent International Paralympics Committee (IPC) European Championships after failing to cover up a tattoo: his team’s lion's head design above the Olympic rings emblazoned on his chest. The International Paralympic Committee said he had breached a rule stating "body advertisements are not allowed in any way whatsoever (this includes tattoos and symbols)." The IPC claims the 19-year-old athlete’s tattoo “breached advertising regulations.”
While it’s apparently kosher for Olympians to display the Olympic rings, the Paralympics has rules against “advertising” any event the athlete is not currently competing in with body art. Personal tattoos such as flowers, initials or any other image with meaning unrelated to a sporting event will be accepted, both at the Olympic Games and the Paralympic Games. The Paralympic Games are governed by a completely separate organization from the IOC and have their own logo.
The IOC recently made a ruling on tattoos in advance of the summer Olympic Games in Rio, which begin in early August. Any tattoos that advertise a product will need to be covered up - with blank tape or patches – during the games. Athletes at the main Games will be allowed to show others images that do not advertise a product or another event, an IOC spokesman said.
"The president is always excited to see athletes with the Olympic Rings," an IOC spokesman said. "Standing alone, the Olympic Rings are a great expression of appreciation of the Olympic Games and of the Olympic values. We take a common sense approach to tattoos whatever they are.”
Going forward, however, Paralympians will need to adhere to tougher rules. Athletes such as Craig will have to cover many of their tattoos.
"The same rule would apply at the Paralympics in Rio. He would have to cover it up as Craig did for the remainder of the competition last week." IPC spokesman Craig Spence said.
The “tattoo rules” are likely to fall hardest on American middle distance runner Nick Symmonds, who actually sells space on his skin for advertising. In 2012, Symmonds auctioned space on his skin on eBay in advance of the Summer Olympic Games. Hanson Dodge Creative, an advertising and design agency in Milwaukee, spent $11,100 to have their logo appear on Symmonds’ shoulder. He later sold nine inches on his arm for $21,800 to T-Mobile US, an official sponsor of the US Olympic and Paralympic teams. To compete in Olympic events, however, Symmonds is required to cover up the tattoo.