By posing for the Louis Vuitton campaign, U.S. Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps may be stripped of his medals, four gold and two silver, from the London 2012 Games.
The latest Louis Vuitton campaign images, which included Michael Phelps, surfaced on Twitter on August 13, 2012.
According to Rule 40, a regulation introduced by the International Olympic Committee earlier this year, no athlete was able to participate in non-Olympic marketing campaigns from July 18 to August 15, 2012.
If the photographs were in fact due for release on August 16 and a rogue individual had simply leaked them, Michael Phelps will be in the clear. But if the photos were in fact leaked intentionally by the brand, the sporting hero will face punishment.
The French fashion house said after the two photos, snapped by famed photographer Annie Leibovitz, had leaked that they were in fact unofficial images and were stolen from the company.
Michael Phelps’ management team have also denied releasing the images.
The official IOC rule states: “A competitor or a team may lose the benefit of any ranking obtained in relation to other events at the Olympic Games at which he or it was disqualified or excluded; in such case the medals and diplomas won by him or it shall be returned to the IOC.”
Two photographs of the athlete were posted on various websites on August 13.
One showed Michael Phelps posing in a bathtub as the brand’s signature bag sat slumped on the floor beside him while another showed him on a couch, sharing a laugh with former Soviet gymnast Larissa Latynina, 77.
As a less severe punishment, Michael Phelps may also simply be fined if he is found to have breached Rule 40.
According to Sekou Campbell, an intellectual property attorney at Fox Rothschild who has written about Rule 40, if the photos were leaked intentionally, it is likely a violation of the IOC regulation designed to combat ambush marketing.
“That’s the point of ambush marketing,” he told CNBC.
“There’s no formal ad, but they somehow generate coverage.”
Michael Phelps’ long-time agent, Peter Carlisle, dismissed any suggestion Friday that the retired swimmer may have violated Rule 40.
Peter Carlisle told The Associated Press there’s no issue with the IOC because Michael 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,” Peter 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.”
“I can’t count on every hand in this office the number of unauthorized uses that happen during the Games period,” Peter Carlisle added.
“We uncover them by the dozens. Some are by companies we don’t even know. It happens constantly.”
No matter the outcome, the star has followed in the footsteps of Sean Connery and Catherine Deneuve, posing with the French label’s famous monogrammed bags in the couch image.
The caption beneath, which is written in Italian, bears the words: “Due percorsi straordinari. Uno stesso destino”, which translates as: “Two extraordinary paths. The same fate.”
The new Core Values campaign image was released at the same time as the bath image, in which Michael Phelps is seen wearing trunks and goggles in a bath, with an LV-monogrammed bag beside the tub.
Though it is designed to look like it too is for Louis Vuitton, the luxury label said: “It is not an official Louis Vuitton image.”
The official new advertisement is the latest in an ongoing series titled Core Values.
The campaign has also featured images of Francis Ford Coppola with his daughter Sofia, Rolling Stones rocker Keith Richards and even Mikhail Gorbachev.