‘Pin-heads’ run unofficial spectator event at Olympics

2012-08-01 10:19

Lapel-pin trading is fast becoming the unofficial spectator event at the Olympic Games.

It’s a popular hobby that extends to other big global events such as the Fifa World Cup.

For 60-year-old Ray Irwin an expedition to any country hosting the Olympics is not complete without pin trading.

“This is my 11th Olympics doing this (trading),” says the father of two from Los Angeles, California, who displays his pins along the pathway of a busy walkway to and from the Olympic Park precinct.

“I have been collecting pins since 1981 and I have over 150 000 up on my wall back home. It’s for free; you just bring in your pin and if I like it, you can choose from what I have.”

The pins are mostly given away by the events’ sponsors and national sports federations to visitors and this prohibits Irwin and his friends from making financial gains.

“Otherwise we’ll be arrested,” he says as a way of justifying why they go about their “business” freely when private hawkers are hardly allowed an inch of space to trade anywhere near the Games.

There are four main categories of the trade: retail, sponsors’ pins, the media and the Olympic committees.

These old-timers are known as “pin heads” for obvious reasons.

“The saying in our trade is that ‘no pin no gain!’” he says.

“Athletes are also into exchanging; some even go to an extent of exchanging with their actual medals. I have an Olympic torch from the Torino Winter Games (2006) but I gave up my favourite pin for it.

“One guy who seemed like he was part of the organising committee walked up to me and said he would offer me something big for a pin. The next thing I received a big mail in my post with a box containing a torch.”

Even better, Irwin said he didn’t have a match ticket to the 1994 Fifa World Cup in the United States but thanks to a pin, he was among the fans who witnessed Italy’s Roberto Baggio when the captain missed his spot kick in the match that Brazil won 3-2 on penalties.

“One fan gave up his final ticket for a Coke pin bearing the World Cup trophy.”

He says the one he would take to his grave is a pin bearing a mascot holding a Coke bottle from the 1994 Winter Games hosted by his city.

“Mascots are not often associated with sponsors and I won’t let this one go.”

Irwin said he observed how pin trading took off in Montreal, Canada, during the 1976 Summer Games and gained momentum at the Moscow event four years later.

Who knows, Usain Bolt may very well be the next in line to trade his record-breaking Olympic medal for a pin.

» Follow @DanieMothowagae and @City_Press for more on the Olympics

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