Friday, 25 June 2010

Accounting for the games: the Olympic ideal

Visit the website for the 2012 Olympics in London and you won't be surprised to see a great deal of advertising for the sponsors of the games, and precious little sign of Olympic ideals, but continue further to the page where you will be able to buy tickets and you may be shocked to find that you can only pay by debit or credit card if you have a Visa account.

Apparently this arrangement is not exclusive because anyone who, for instance, only has a  Mastercard account can buy a prepaid Visa card. No doubt Visa already has very precise statistics showing what proportion of the money on prepaid cards is never actually used and Visa could use this additional profit to provide some extra sponsorship for the games but it hardly seems fair on the hapless spectator. The flimsy excuse, then, that other forms of payment are available, even if they are both more expensive and less convenient, allows the Olympics to pretend that this is not against the fundamental principle of avoiding any kind of discrimination.

We understand that the Office of Fair Trading is looking at the legality of this move to exclude competition from other card issuers but there can be very little hope that they will be allowed to upset the apple cart. Expectations of the European Commission may be higher, though, since they intervened to force the World Cup in Germany 2006 to accept cards other than just Mastercard despite a similar exclusivity deal.

However, there is an Olympic principle that seems to be in even greater jeopardy: To oppose any political or commercial abuse of sport and athletes. This statement is now the last reference to the amateur principles that used to be the foundations of the Olympic movement. The idea of competing for the sake of sport rather than for gain was a worthy one even if the IOC could not sustain it against the intense pressures of commercial sponsorship of athletes. This unnecessary and blatantly anti-competitive step whereby Visa becomes the only card accepted at the 2012 Olympics makes it obvious that the whole event is no longer the world's greatest sporting event: it has become the world's biggest travelling circus.

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