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The secret tradition of collecting Olympic pins

Fans, volunteers and even athletes collect special Olympic pins at every edition of the Games to create a lifetime of memories

A fan wearing Olympic pins at the 2018 Winter Games.
A fan wearing Olympic pins at the 2018 Winter Games. (Getty Images)

The Olympic torch is the most visible tradition of the Games. But a lesser-known fan favourite are the special edition Olympic pins. These are designed for the Games by the host and participating nations, as well as by partners and sponsors. In fact, it is the ultimate unofficial sport at every edition of the Olympic s, where collectors from around the world swap, and at times even sell, them at Olympics venues, the Games village, and elsewhere.

Olympic pins began as a way to identify athletes, judges and officials, but over the past 125 years, they have become an Olympic tradition, an International Olympic Committee (IOC) spokesperson said recently. Collecting and swapping pins is now an integral part of making new friends at the Games.

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At Rio 2016, Gary Grulich from Texas, USA, used to stand outside the Olympics Village for the duration of the games with his albums of pins collected from 10 Olympics. He would trade them with fans, athletes, journalists, presenters, volunteers, coaches and other collectors for anything rare, new or something Olympics-related that he didn’t already have.

Another collector, John Ioannidis from Athens, Greece, spent two months in Rio watching the Olympic and Paralympic Games. During the Games, he used to station himself outside the main entrance of Rio’s Olympic Park and trade pins he had collected from the seven Olympic and Paralympic Games that he had attended. Between the games, he used to head to popular tourist hotspots where he also sold pins to those interested in a bit of Olympics memorabilia.

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Arpit Agarwal, a Guwahati-based designer went to the London and Rio Games as a volunteer, and is an enthusiastic collector. At his first Olympics in London in 2012, the 37-year-old saw fans, volunteers and athletes exchanging pins and showing off their collection on their lanyards, hats and jackets. “That got me interested and I started asking players at the table tennis arena for pins. They were very nice and would give us a pin for helping them during their games. It was their gesture of gratitude, I guess,” he says.

In London, Agarwal didn’t trade any pins because he had none to trade but he arrived in Rio de Janeiro in 2016 armed with his own collection. “In Rio I was a lot less shy and asked players and coaches directly for the pins. It is fun collecting pins. Each invokes a memory or a funny incident as to how I came into possession of it. Tokyo is out of reach for me, so the pins are my direct connection to the summer games and the athletes I had interacted with,” says Agarwal. He has about 150 unique Olympic pins.

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However, with spectators, international volunteers and fans missing this year, many collectors have not been able to make it to Japan. The Tokyo 2020 Olympic pin trade games will be limited to just players and the staff members of the organising committee.

That the athletes had already begun the Olympics pin games was visible at the opening ceremony itself, where many squad members were seen walking with their proud collection pinned to the lanyards of their accreditation cards. But there is hardly any pin swap or collection happening at the summer games this year, said a person involved with Tokyo 2020. However, the IOC has launched NFT (non-fungible token) Olympic pins which the fans can buy, trade and collect in order to engage with fans worldwide who have been following the games remotely.

As the games progress towards the showpiece track and field events over its final few days, only about 300 of the 10,000 athletes will depart with a medal to mark their achievement. Most of them will, however, carry back a pin as a memento of their Tokyo adventure.

Shrenik Avlani is a writer and editor and co-author of The Shivfit Way, a book on functional fitness.

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