x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

Political body art

Using eBay, Twitter, and a temporary tattoo, an athlete points out the hegemony sport bodies exercise over the wealth created by endorsements.

For all their aura of idealism, the Olympic Games are big business, and the lords of the rings have protected their moneymaking machine with a legal thicket of copyright and endorsement rules about as dense and impenetrable as any on the planet.

So tough are the rules governing marketing through amateur sports that US Olympian Nick Symmonds, a strident but thoughtful critic of such regulations, cannot even get away with selling ad space on his own body: any tattoo of a commercial nature, such as a logo, will have to be covered up while he is competing.

But that has not stopped Symmonds, who took part in the 2008 Olympics and is expected to qualify for the London Games this summer. He admits that he has been well-treated by his own sponsors, Nike and a company called Melaleuca, but argues that athletes should be free to broker their own endorsement deals at the Olympics.

So he has taken to eBay, auctioning off the rights to a temporary tattoo showing the high bidder's Twitter "handle". Yes, this human billboard will be covered while he's running, he concedes, but this will make the publicity value of the whole caper even greater.

He has a point. Everybody watches the Olympics, and we suspect that everybody will enjoy seeing the smug elite of that world outsmarted, even a little, by one resourceful member of their unpaid labour force.