Only A Game? - Olympians can’t have their cake and eat it

Victoria Pendleton.
Victoria Pendleton.

It’s the oldest trick in the advertising book; get someone successful and who people look up to to sell your product. I suppose it was only a matter of time until Olympians such as Victoria Pendleton, Louis Smith and Chris Hoy crossed over to the dark side.

It’s a sad state of affairs because Olympians from Ireland and Great Britain captured the imagination and inspired people all over the world.

Pr Shoot - Lucozade PR Shoot - Huntingdon Gymnastics Club, Claytons Way, Huntingdon - 11/3/10'Lucozade PR Shoot with Louis Smith 'Mandatory Credit: Action Images / John Sibley

Pr Shoot - Lucozade PR Shoot - Huntingdon Gymnastics Club, Claytons Way, Huntingdon - 11/3/10'Lucozade PR Shoot with Louis Smith 'Mandatory Credit: Action Images / John Sibley

For too long had the public endured so-called celebrities who were famous for being err, famous but that all changed during the Olympics.

All of a sudden people like Louis Smith, Katie Taylor and Mo Farah were becoming household names. People were awestruck because the Olympians were a prime example of what can be achieved through dedication, hard graft and sacrifice.

Some might say that describing the achievements of Irish and British Olympians as inspiring is contrived but I would disagree. They represented everything that we admire in human beings; humility, purpose and resolve. We wanted to be just like many of them.

But the pedestals that many of the Olympians found themselves on have started to disappear. Why? One word - advertising.

Tommy Bowe.

Tommy Bowe.

As the late great comedian Bill Hicks once said, “do a commercial, you’re off the artistic roll call, every word you say is suspect, you’re a corporate **** and eh, end of story”.

I believe that Olympic athletes or indeed any sports man or woman who promotes any product has to do it at the expense of some of their integrity.

I am not for one minute saying that it detracts from their achievements - that would be ridiculous. However, it’s hypocritical to say someone is an inspiration after winning a medal at an Olympic Games and then not have a go at them when they decide to promote Gillette razor blades (which cost an absolute fortune) or Pantene Pro-V shampoo.

The only reason sports men and women take part in such adverts is because of the money.

Does anyone seriously believe that two time gold medal winning cyclist Victoria Pendleton took part in an advert for Pantene Pro-V shampoo because she is passionate about hair care?

And if you believe that gymnast Louis Smith appeared in a recent television advert for Subway because he’s fond of extra jalapeños you really need your head looked at.

Athletes like Pendleton and Smith are to be admired but I’m sorry, they lose some of my respect when they are pushing a corporate narrative.

We can all take something from an athlete’s Olympic glory - it’s called inspiration but we get absolutely nothing from them when they appear on television telling us what their favourite foot long sandwich is.

Ulster and Ireland rugby player, Tommy Bowe and boxer Anthony Ogogo appear alongside Louis Smith in the aforementioned Subway advert. Their line delivery is so bad that a corpse would have done a better job.

Is it ok for sports men and women to cash in on their success? Absolutely but like I have said this has to come at a price because they can’t claim to be ‘one of us’ whilst receiving large sums of money for appearing in adverts.

Just because Louis Smith or Victoria Pendleton accept money to promote a product does not mean they are any less of an athlete. That’s not what I am saying at all. But when athletes opt to promote a certain product they have to accept and realise that it will inevitability impact upon how they are perceived by the public.

For many of the athletes in question, the London Olympics was the highlight of their career. Even if they do go on to defend their medals in Rio de Janeiro they will never experience the high of winning gold, silver or bronze in their nation’s capital ever again.

Inevitably, companies with products to sell have cashed in on the success of the London Games by offering the now famous athletes advertising deals.

On the face of it there’s nothing wrong with such practices and perhaps I am being totally naive but it just doesn’t sit right with me that corporate fat cats can somehow increase their share price by tapping into something as real, as pure and as honest as the Olympics.

Whilst I am sure that not everyone will agree with me on this one I know that I am not alone in my scepticism.

The only reason these adverts happen is because business want to make money. The reason they want to make money is because they want to drive up the price of their company. And whilst I am all for leading a comfortable life there comes a time when you have to ask yourself how much money is enough money?

This question doesn’t look like it’s going to be answered anytime soon and maybe all of this is just jealousy on my part; then again, I never really did care much for Subway anyway...