Adidas and Nike battle could turn Olympic athletes into Shoeless Joes

‘Shoeless’ Joe Jackson was the baseball star who was banned for life following the famous ‘Black Sox’ scandal when members of the Chicago White Sox baseball team were convicted of fixing the 1919 World Series.

Now some more contemporary sporting legends are in danger of losing their own footwear as the eternal battle between sportswear rivals Adidas and Nike ramps up for the London Olympics.

The British Olympic Committee has told athletes that, while they can wear their footwear of choice (and sponsor) in the events, they should sport official sponsor Adidas’s kit in the Olympic Village itself (in case they get their picture taken presumably). But this also includes appearances on the medal podium, which has led some athletes to speculate that they might have to receive their medals, should they win them of course, barefoot.

The reason? The mighty Nike, not an official sponsor because Adidas has the gig, says its contracted athletes will wear its footwear at all times and that’s that. The BOC doesn’t agree.

This is all terribly silly but just shows how important these events, the Olympics and the football World Cup, are. Nike practically invented ‘ambush’ marketing to crash these two events (Adidas is also an official sponsor of the World Cup). At the last World Cup in 2010 it must have spend hundreds of millions of dollars on its ‘Write the Future’ campaign and other marketing wheezes. In money terms official sponsor Adidas gets a rather better deal.

One of the stars of Write the Future was Nike ‘property’ Wayne Rooney who just might be at the Olympics as Great Britain is entering a football team for the first time.

Rooney will also be making an appearance for England at the Euro finals later this summer (a belated one due to suspension) but, like his colleagues, would love to be one of the over-age players in the Olympics squad (the much more over-age David Beckham is another, but he won’t be turning out in the Ukraine). When Fabio Capello was England manager it was highly unlikely that he would have allowed any of his Euro squad to appear in the Olympics.

But Fabio is no more, of course, and the England team is currently in the hands of Capello’s deputy Stuart Pearce – who just happens to be the manager of the Great Britain Olympics football team too.

So our Wayne could be one of those athletes wandering the Olympic Village barefoot, anxiously trying to avoid every pair of Adidas spikes.

It could only happen in so-called sport.

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.