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Culture

Going for the Big Bucks

To be an Olympic athlete you need a lot of skill, years of training and luck. To be an Olympic sponsor you need a lot of money, and more importantly you have to make sure your competition can't show its face.

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Coca Cola is one of the Olympics' top sponsors

While athletes from around the world strive for a gold medal, the International Olympic Committee is doing its best at keeping its 11 top sponsors happy. The global corporations expect nothing less after investing a total of about €693 million ($854 million) in the Athens Games. The most the IOC can do is keep out the competition.

Adidas Logo Sport Heritage Division

Adidas wants to make sure no one in Athens sees Nike

Coke, Kodak and Adidas each invested about $60 million to be named official Olympic sponsors and want to make sure Pepsi, Fuji and Nike get as little exposure as possible during the two-week Olympic Games. What is supposed to be a fair and open field for the athletes is anything but that when sponsors come to town.

On the watch

Once spectators get their tickets -- Visa being the only credit card accepted at ticket counters -- ticket rippers are doing more than just making sure everyone sits in the right section. They're also on the lookout for the wrong logos.

Flags, shirts and bags with rival trademarks are banned. So are flags from non-participating countries and banners larger than one square meter. Try brining a Whopper into the McDonald's-only games and you'll be left hungry. In fact, no food is allowed to be brought into the Olympic venues except for medical reasons -- even water bottles bearing the wrong label have been prohibited.

Die Karten zum Olymp

Olympic ticket windows only accept Visa

But spectators shouldn't feel they're the only ones under the sponsor police's eye. Athletes and trainers face similar scrutiny. When the supply cars that deliver goods to long-distance cyclists aren't from the Olympic partner, their trademarks have to be hidden too. Only small logos from national team and individual athlete sponsors are allowed on competitor's clothes.

Ambush marketing

The IOC isn't trying to make anyone's life miserable. It's an effort to protect official sponsors from the ambush marketing tactics of non-sponsors attempting to get some cheap, or free, publicity.

Nike is probably the most famous ambush marketer. It tried stealing Adidas' thunder at the 1996 Olympics by buying huge billboards outside the venues and even built a kiosk next to Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta.

IOC members fear devastating consequences if such underhanded tactics pay off. Sponsors would stop paying big bucks for official name placement, and without sponsors' money, many sporting events would never take place.

"If allowed to go unchecked, it will destroy the foundation of sport," Michael Payne, director of global broadcasting for the Olympics, said of ambush marketing.

But that won't happen anytime soon. Many sponsors have already signed contracts guaranteeing them exclusive rights for the 2012 games, wherever they'll be held.