Nicked by sponsor-team spat

Runner Nick Symmonds dropped in dispute over official US team apparel for Beijing meet

Nick Symmonds celebrates after winning the 800m in 1:44.53 in the 2015 USA Championships at Hayward Field.
Nick Symmonds celebrates after winning the 800m in 1:44.53 in the 2015 USA Championships at Hayward Field.PHOTO: KIRBY LEE, USA TODAY SPORTS

NEW YORK • Runner Nick Symmonds' refusal to sign a "statement of conditions" required to be on the United States track and field team for this month's World Championships has reignited the debate over where team sponsor obligations start and end.

The silver medallist in the 800 metres at the 2013 World Championships was on Monday left off the team for the Aug 22-30 World Championships in Beijing.

To be included, athletes must agree to wear official team apparel to all team functions.

Nike is the official apparel supplier to USA Track & Field (USATF), while Symmonds is sponsored by rival company Brooks. Athletes can wear their preferred shoe brand.

Symmonds, who won the 800m at the US trials in June, said on Twitter late on Sunday that he would present proof that the USATF was "stealing millions of dollars from the athletes" and "getting rich" off their hard work.

On Monday, he cited what he said was an analysis by an economist that showed that 8 per cent of expected USATF gross revenue this year would be distributed to athletes.

The USATF issued a statement on Monday that said, in part, that the federation's conditions "and its requirements are common in professional, Olympic and national team sports, both domestically and internationally".

It added that it "annually invests more than 50 per cent of our total revenue directly in athlete support, and that amount is growing".

But Symmonds, 31, offered a strident response: "I am offended by @USATF statement. Not my decision to not represent #TeamUSA at #Beijing2015. And 50% investment?? That's a flat-out lie," he tweeted.

Symmonds said he does not object to wearing official apparel to team functions, but wants a clear definition of what constitutes an official function.

"This vague commitment is hugely problematic for all non-Nike sponsored athletes who are contractually obligated to wear their sponsor's gear at all times outside of official team functions," he wrote in a Huffington Post blog.

His stand provoked quick reaction from fellow athletes. David Oliver, the world champion in the 110m hurdles, was among the first to weigh in, agreeing that "team activity" needs to be spelt out more precisely. But he appeared to offer Symmonds only qualified support.

"Haven't followed the @NickSymmonds case closely, but the paperwork hasn't changed and I know he's signed that same paper every other time," Oliver tweeted.

Former US Olympic distance runner Kara Goucher voiced support, tweeting: "I am beyond devastated for @NickSymmonds. @usatf, you are sending convicted drug cheats and keeping home a clean silver medallist."

Justin Gatlin, the fastest man in the world this year, is part of the US team. The 33-year-old served a four-year suspension after testing positive for testosterone in 2006.

The issue raised by Symmonds is hardly new. Back in 1992, American basketball players were caught in a dilemma because official US Olympic team awards uniforms were supplied by Reebok at the Barcelona Games. So Michael Jordan, who was sponsored by Nike, and other members of the Dream Team unzipped their collars to hide the Reebok patch.

As an added precaution, Jordan, Charles Barkley and Magic Johnson carried an American flag over their right shoulders. REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 12, 2015, with the headline 'Nicked by sponsor-team spat'. Print Edition | Subscribe