Olympic authorities are investigating a bucket of unapproved, non-sponsor condoms found in the village.
Australia's Caroline Buchanan discovered this bucket of unapproved-brand condoms. (Twitter)
The commercialization of the Olympics even reaches into the Olympic Village, where thousands of athletes from around the world live, rest, and do exactly what you'd expect from a bunch of physically fit young people who are filled with adrenaline and excitement. Since the 1992 Barcelona games, host cities have supplied the village with free condoms, and the London 2012 games have extended their ubiquitous sponsorship opportunities -- and fierce protection of those sponsors -- even here, selling exclusive condom rights to Durex. And when they say exclusive, they're not kidding.
Australian BMX cyclist Caroline Buchanan, one of the Olympic Village's many athletic residents, sparked one of the Olympics' many copyright-protection investigations when she tweeted a photo of a bucket of free condoms. A sign over the bucket reads "Kangaroo Condoms: For the Gland Down Under."
Putting aside the egregious violation of Olympic rings copyright (Olympic authorities have put a halt to bakers, florists, and little old ladies using the rings without paying for the right), the big problem here is that the bucket contains a handful of non-Durex condoms. The Ansell and Pasante brand condoms are being handed out in violation of sponsorship rules, the authorities explained, and so must be stopped.
"We will look into this and ask that they are not handed out to other athletes because Durex are our supplier," a spokeswoman told the Guardian. Both Ansell and Pasante wisely denied that their companies played any role in putting the condoms there.
Olympic Villages are, famously, hotbeds of sexual activity. Durex supplied more than enough condoms -- 150,000, they say, and all handed out to athletes for free -- and surely paid well for the right. The organizers in the International Olympic Committee argue that the games are expensive, that they wouldn't happen without sponsorship, and that they can charge sponsors so much in part because of how aggressively they protect those sponsors' exclusive rights.
"If Coca-Cola is spending upwards of £100M [$157 million] for a right of association, which is clearly a huge amount of money, the IOC understands brands need category exclusivity," a marketing academic told the BBC. In 2006, in preparation for the 2012 London games, the UK Parliament passed a law to bolster sponsors' rights and the ability of authorities to enforce them.
Still, condoms might be a commercial product, but they're also a medical device. At some point, it seems worth balancing Durex's commercial interests (and the IOC's balance sheet) against public health. Olympic athletes are already burdened with their home country's national prestige and, by extension of the Olympics' sponsorships, with the games' commercial interests. Surely we can grant them a little physical and commercial privacy when they're back in their village dorms.
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Max Fisher is a former writer and editor at The Atlantic.