Michael Phelps agent is flatly denying that the swimmer broke International Olympic Committee rules with photos in which he posed with luggage.
Two photos that Annie Leibovitz took of Phelps went into heavy rotation on the internet earlier this week — one showing him sitting on a couch with former Russian gymnast Larisa Latynina, whose medal record he just broke, and another showing him wearing a Speedo while he slumps in a bathtub. In each, a Louis Vuitton bag is prominently featured
The IOC's infamous Rule 40 (PDF) prohibits Olympic athletes from appearing in advertising for non-Olympic sponsors from July 18 to Aug. 15.
The rule states that athletes found in violation of the rule may face fines or even the loss of their medals, but Phelps' agent, Peter Carlisle, says his client did nothing wrong.
"He didn't violate Rule 40, it's as simple as that," Carlisle said in a telephone interview with the Associated Press. "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."
The photo of Phelps with Latynina, the only one to which Louis Vuitton owns the rights, made its official debut in the Aug. 16 editions of the Wall Street Journal and The New York Times.
If it the leaking of the photos had been intentional, “it is probably a violation of Rule 40,” Sekou Campbell, an intellectual property attorney at Fox Rothschild who has written about Rule 40, told CNBC.
It seems unlikely that the IOC would go as far as to strip Phelps of some hardware, as far too much of the excitement around this year's Games centered on his pursuit of Latynina's record.
The rule sparked a minor protest, as many Olympians took to Twitter to express their displeasure over the financial hardship it created for most of the athletes.
"They don’t see the three or four years leading up to the Olympic Games, when a lot of my peers are struggling to stay in the sport. The majority of track and field athletes don’t have sponsors and don’t have support to stay in the sport,” Sonya Richards-Ross told The Associated Press. “A lot of my peers have second and third jobs to be able to do this. And that’s just unfortunate. And so it was a concerted effort.”