Olympian Nick Symmonds, a vocal critic of what he calls track and field’s needlessly restrictive logo and sponsorship regulations, is auctioning advertising space on his body to raise money — and awareness.
Symmonds, currently the U.S. national champion in the 800 meters, will wear the winning bidder’s Twitter handle on his left shoulder for the duration of the 2012 season, which starts next month and includes events in Sydney and the 2012 Olympic Games in London.
The goal is to draw support from fans and corporations to help finance his quest for Olympic gold while advancing his crusade against rules barring athletes from having sponsorships in the Olympics or Olympic-sanctioned races. Symmonds, who competed in the 2008 Olympics, argues regulations by International Association of Athletics Federations and USA Track & Field create a virtual monopoly for the few companies allowed to display logos on uniforms.
Although Symmonds says his sponsors, Nike and Melaleuca, “have done an amazing job helping me get where I am today,” he believes he and other athletes should be able to broker their own endorsement deals.
“To further my career, and for other athletes to further their careers, I need to be able to pursue sponsorship deals,” he told Wired.com.
To that end, Symmonds will wear a temporary tattoo bearing the winning bidder’s Twitter handle. The tattoo will be “very legible and easy for people to read,” he said. In the auction listing, Symmonds also promises to “tweet a message of support for the auction winner on the first of every month” from his Twitter account, @nsymm800.
If the winning bidder is a corporation, Symmonds also will endorse its products as long as doing so does not conflict with his deals with Nike and Melaleuca.
“If Reebok wins, I can’t honor that,” he said.
Symmonds concedes in the eBay listing that “due to antiquated and crippling rules” he will have to cover the temporary tattoo while competing in events sanctioned by the International Association of Athletics Federations. That will actually benefit the winning bidder, he said.
“In some ways, covering it up will actually generate more publicity,” he said. “People will be wondering why there’s this guy running around with duct tape on his arm.”
Symmonds argues that regulations dictating how and where corporations may advertise on athletes have contributed to his sport’s waning popularity. He’s gone so far as to call such rules “the biggest problem in our sport today” because they make it increasingly difficult for athletes to earn a living.
“There are athletes scraping by on the few dollars they’re able to raise,” he said.
Symmonds became something of a poster child for the issue in October when he created a Facebook group called “I’m tired of USATF and IAAF crippling our sport” to vent his frustration. The group currently has some 6,400 friends.
The auction, which started Wednesday and runs through Jan. 14, comes one month after the IAAF loosened its sponsorship rules. The new regulation, which took effect Jan. 1, allows allow two logos on jerseys — that of the manufacturer and another sponsor. Symmonds says the rule is “largely symbolic.”
“It does absolutely nothing to change things, because almost every contract with the manufacturers of the jerseys has an exclusivity contract,” he said. “If you’re wearing Brand X jersey, you can’t have Company Y’s logo on it.”
Rather than tinker with the rules, he says, the sport’s sanctioning bodies should step aside and let athletes and their agents negotiate directly with companies.
“This has nothing to do with the IAAF,” he said. “If a company wants exclusivity, they should be able to negotiate that with the athletes. If they want exclusivity, they should have to pay for it. They shouldn’t get it because some sanctioning body gave it to them.”
As of 6:30 p.m. Eastern on Friday, the bid stood at $1,875 after 50 bids. The auction ends Jan. 14.
Photo: Nick Symmonds celebrates winning a Men’s 800m semifinal with second place finisher Yuriy Borzakovskiy and third place finisher Jackson Mumbwa Kivuva at the World Athletics Championships in Daegu, South Korea, on Aug. 28, 2011. Anja Niedringhaus/Associated Press