Olympic pin trade is another Covid victim this year

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A few years ago, Bud Kling added three rooms to his Pacific Palisades home in California. The builders used additional concrete along with a reinforcing metal beam – and not because Mr. Kling was expecting a crowd. Rooms are not for people. They were designed to house and showcase his 30,000th collection of Olympic badges – vibrant and endlessly varied souvenirs that have been bought and sold at the Games for decades.

Even when construction was completed, 74-year-old tennis coach Mr. Kling had many more pins than he could fit in his home. He also has about 100,000 “trade pins” – multiples of the same pins that can be swapped – and he drags some of them to the Games. His cache is stowed away in his garage and rented warehouse.

“I have a very patient wife,” said Mr. Kling unnecessarily.

When the organizers Olympic Games in Tokyo announced that the 2020 Games will be postponed during the year, and in March it foreign viewers are not allowed Few in the country have been as depressed as Mr. Kling and other avid Olympic pin dealers. For them, the Games are only partly about sports. For every minute they spend watching the competition, they spend one or two minutes trading skittles, either in impromptu fights on the street or in certain shopping malls.

The collapse of the pin trading market is unlikely to be reflected in the book of losses incurred by the Tokyo Games, a venture worth more than $ 15 billion, according to organizers. About $ 3 billion of that amount comes from contract renegotiations caused by a one-year delay. But filling the national treasury was not the point of holding, since the cost of organizing the world’s largest gathering began to rise more than ten years ago. Countries are vying to participate in the Games in the hope of a “look at me” moment – a beautiful, multi-week advertisement aimed at the entire planet.

Tokyo will get a healthy portion of self-promotion if the Games are held, which the organizers vow will happen despite the fact that national surveys suggesting that the overwhelming number of people in Japan who are struggling with protracted fourth viral wave – would prefer another deferral or complete cancellation.

For Olympic fans around the world, these Games will be remembered as a party they had to miss. This includes about 250 pin dealers, people who plan their lives for the two-year interval between the Summer and Winter Olympics.

Never heard of Olympic badges? They are a portable, wearable, promotional and branding tool for sports delegations, national Olympic committees, corporate sponsors, media and cities bidding for the Games. (The New York Times makes its own badges and distributes a couple dozen to reporters covering events.)

For the unshakable, the pins are kind of a $ 7 memento that you throw in a drawer or wastepaper basket as soon as you get back from the Games. Thousands of people buy badges, and many spontaneously exchange them when they see a shopping beehive outside the establishment. Host countries cater to casual and die-hard fans alike by producing a vast array of pins that are sold in souvenir shops.

Japan was ready for the maddening crowd. According to a representative of the Games, the organizers of the country have produced 600 different badges with an official license, and 12 gift shops have been opened in Tokyo. The demand for this award is now an open question. It’s not just that only Japanese fans will be admitted to the Games. Trading is such a practical, personal activity that there are concerns that it could be discouraged or even prohibited.

The Games’ press service did not comment on anything other than sending in an “instruction” published in February outlining security protocols. The pin trade was not mentioned, but one of the principles was that participants should “minimize physical interaction with others” and “avoid confined spaces and crowds as much as possible.” This makes trading pin codes almost impossible.

For years, Coca-Cola, a longtime sponsor of the Olympic Games, has built pin trading centers on the Games grounds. The spokeswoman said there will be promotions related to the pins, including the opportunity to purchase badges representing Japan’s 47 prefectures. The question of whether the company will open and locate a pin trading center in Tokyo is still unknown, the spokesman said.

For years, Mr. Kling was hired by Coca-Cola to help oversee and manage its pin centers. This volunteer position made him the unofficial king of the Games. Among his many roles are the observance of etiquette and unwritten rules. This means ensuring fair table sharing, weeding out fake pins, and not overcharging newcomers.

“Sometimes I hear an older guy say to a child, ‘My pin is so much bigger, so you have to trade me for two,” he said. “We don’t want anyone torturing an 8-year-old child.”

Some do it for money. There are over 80,000 lists of Olympic badges posted on eBay. These speculators had a golden moment in Nagano, Japan, in 1998 when, for reasons no one ever explained, organizers were unable to show enough badges. Trading frenzy ensued. Several people made $ 40,000 in a few days. The pin economy had a moment of tulip mania.

“A guy I know made a down payment on his house with money he made in Nagano,” said Sid Marantz, a pin dealer who has attended 17 Olympics and is another regular volunteer at Coca-Cola pin trading centers.

At 76, Mr. Marantz left the family business that sold food ingredients such as salt and sugar. He got his first pin when his parents took him to the 1960 Olympics in Rome. He was a big fan of Rafer Johnson, a versatile athlete at UCLA who won gold in the decathlon that year.

“I was just caught up in it all,” he said.

He attended his next Games in Montreal in 1976 on a tour with Track & Field News, to which he signed up. According to him, this was the first time that viewers were involved in a large-scale trade in pins.

It’s an affordable hobby, at least in the experienced hands of Mr. Marantz. He estimates that his entire collection cost him about $ 10,000. This is largely due to the fact that after the 1996 Atlanta Games, he and three friends learned of a warehouse in Colorado, home to the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee, where 750,000 unsold badges were stored. They threw off $ 35,000 and bought the entire shipment. Each contained about 40,000 badges, the rest they sold to collectors around the world.

“We called it the ‘mother’s dwelling,’” he said of the acquisition. “This means that I go to the Pins Games, which actually cost me nothing. That’s why I will trade with absolutely anyone. “

Trading in pins is not only about finding new friends, but also about finding little-known and hard-to-find treasures. These include badges from African delegations because they tend to display small teams. (Burundi’s badges are especially prized; the country brought nine athletes to Rio in 2016.) Any country that has recently changed its name will be in the spotlight for pin traders. This means that you, North Macedonia, will participate in the first Games since then. Greece forced him to add “North” to its name.

Japanese media company icons have been popular since the days of Nagano because they are often adorned with cute cartoon mascots. But this time even this genre will not be trendy. The icons from Tokyo 2020 – yes, it retains the name, let alone the actual date – will cost next to nothing, predicts Mr Marantz. Supply will outshine demand.

Both Mr. Marantz and Mr. Kling bought thousands of dollars worth of tickets to events in Tokyo, money that has since been returned. Only recently have they begun to realize that they really won’t be going to Japan in a few weeks. Friday the Japanese government extended the state of emergency in Tokyo and other prefectures until at least June 20.

“It’s like a boulder falling,” Mr. Kling said of being forced to skip the Games, “and he’s going to hit you in the head.”

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