The Australian Olympic Committee has thrown its legal heft behind a backlash against the use of high-profile Australian swimmers in a political campaign against transgender inclusion in sport.
A moving billboard deployed by conservative activist group Advance in Sydney featured photos of Olympic stars Emma McKeon, Emily Seebohm and swimming legend Dawn Fraser, who have all raised questions about the fairness of transgender athletes competing at elite levels of competition.
None gave consent for the use of their image, however, and Swimming Australia threatened legal action if the billboard was not shelved. Now the AOC is preparing to descend, confirming it will send a letter via its legal team on Tuesday alleging the use of intellectual property without permission.
Central to that claim is the Olympic rings, which feature on the swimming suits of both McKeon and Seebohm. It is one of the most vigorously policed logos in the world and the International Olympic Committee forbids their reproduction without its written consent.
Meanwhile, Fraser, one of the icons of Australian sport, told the Herald and The Age she was furious with her photo being associated with the campaign to unseat independent Warringah MP Zali Steggall and had engaged her own solicitor on the matter.
Advance declined to confirm whether it would use the billboard again, instead accusing Swimming Australia of “running cover” for Steggall as she campaigns for the upcoming federal election. Advance executive director, Matthew Sheahan, declined to return calls.
“The statements by Dawn Fraser, Emma McKeon and Emily Seebohm are all on the public record and make the compelling argument that allowing biological males to compete in girls and women’s sport just isn’t fair,” Advance said in a statement.
“The country’s best swimmers have made their views clear, so where is the sport at? Swimming Australia should be honest about what they plan to do to address the concerns of Australian parents.
“It’s incredible that the media have become obsessed over who is allowed to use a photo rather than calling out sports bodies and politicians over this important issue.”
Advance may be able to thumb its nose at Swimming Australia and its limited resources but would be unlikely to come out on top in a stoush with the AOC and the enormous resources of the IOC, which is ultra-vigilent with its intellectual property, especially the Olympic rings.
Nobody in Australia can register a design using the Olympic rings, motto and torch outside of the AOC, which must in turn apply to use those images on specific local products. The photos of McKeon and Seebohm were taken by Swimming Australia with the AOC and used in certain Olympic marketing before the Tokyo Games.
Swimming Australia said McKeon and Seebohm were still considering their options on Monday in terms of further statements or legal action.
Transgender sport has become an issue in the election after a private members bill from Liberal Senator Claire Chandler that would make it easier for sporting clubs to exclude participants. Liberal challenger for Warringah Katherine Deves is a hardliner on the issue.
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