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Judge rules against Australian Olympic Committee in Telstra case

A Federal Court judge has dismissed the Australian Olympic Committee’s claim that its former commercial partner, telecommunications company Telstra, launched a misleading advertising campaign ahead of the 2016 summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

Telstra had served as a long-term partner of the AOC until last year, when the two parties mutually ended their association. Earlier this year, Telstra launched an ‘I go to Rio’ campaign, which the AOC took issue with.

The AOC said the campaign implied that Telstra was still its partner. Earlier this month, the AOC said it would be taking legal action against Telstra after “repeated attempts for cooperation” with the company were rejected.

Telstra claimed the campaign was connected to its partnership with Australian commercial broadcaster Seven and insisted it was not trying to mislead anyone. A Federal Court judge, Justice Wigney, has now ruled in favour of Telstra and ordered the AOC to pay the company’s costs.

“There could be no doubt that Telstra’s campaign was themed around the forthcoming Rio Olympic Games,” Justice Wigney said, according to the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper. “It is, however, not enough for the AOC to prove that the advertisements were Olympic-themed. Were they so, any advertisement over the next month that used Peter Allen's ‘I Go To Rio’ song or images of people playing or watching sport, might equally be accused of misleadingly associating themselves with the Olympics Games or Olympic bodies.

“It may also be readily accepted that the fact that the advertisements, marketing and promotions did not expressly refer to any Olympic body, or use any Olympic symbols or emblems, is not determinative. An association can be conveyed by subtle, emotive or pervasive suggestion.”

The AOC in December entered into a 10-year partnership with Telstra’s rival operator Optus. The deal, which named Optus as the official telecommunications partner of the AOC, was hailed as one of the body’s “biggest ever”. The agreement became effective this year and runs until 2026.