Two-time Olympian Nick Symmonds, who won his sixth national 800m championship in June, is refusing to sign a contract that mandates he must wear Nike-branded gear during all team functions at the IAAF World Championships in Beijing later this month, according to a report by Sports Business Daily. In April, Nike signed a longterm partnership deal with USA Track & Field which extends through 2040, maintaining its status as exclusive sponsor and supplier of products for U.S. national teams at international competitions such as the Olympics, world championships, Pan-Am Games and other events.
Symmonds, who is sponsored by Brooks Running, Soleus Watches, Run Gum (which he founded and owns) and other companies, is threatening to sue USATF if he is kept off the world championship team for refusing to sign the aforementioned contract. USA Track & Field says he has until Sunday to sign, or he will be left off the team.
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Symmonds told Sports Business Daily that he will wear the Team USA Nike uniform while competing, but says the contract wants Nike purity on bandanas, travel bags, socks and more. Symmonds posted a congratulatory letter from USA Track & Field on his Instagram account that reads, “Accordingly, please pack ONLY Team USA, Nike or non-branded apparel and be sure to bring your Team USA gear.”
“My concern is that … how far back can they go?,” Symmonds told SBD’s Ben Fischer. “If they wanted to, they could say I have to wear Nike from the moment that I make the team at USAs, and then all of a sudden they’re buying up the entire season. USATF and Nike are just taking way too much of the pie, so far as to violate my rights as an athlete.”
This isn’t the first time that Symmonds, who was a Nike-sponsored athlete until he signed with Brooks in early 2014, has created controversy surrounding branding and sponsorship. Leading up to the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials, Symmonds sold advertising space on his shoulder to Milwaukee-based advertising agency Hanson Dodge Creative, but was forced to cover up the temporary tattoo during competition or risk disqualification. At this year’s national championships in June, Symmonds broke the finish line tape in the 800m flexing his biceps, adorned with Run Gum temporary tattoos. That image graces the September cover of Track & Field News.
USA Track & Field spokeswoman Jill Geer stated that the national team uniform policy is well known and consistent with the rest of the industry. That answer didn’t satisfy Symmonds, who says, “My end game is to see that this document is rewritten and stops exploiting athletes.”