(Reuters) - Runner Nick Symmonds’ refusal to sign a “statement of conditions” required to be on the U.S. team for this month’s world championships reignited the debate over where team sponsor obligations start and end.
Symmonds, silver medalist in the 800 meters at the 2013 world championships, on Monday was left off the United States team for the Aug. 22-30 world athletics 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 U.S. trials in June, said on Twitter late Sunday that he would present proof that 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 eight percent of expected USATF gross revenue in 2015 would be distributed to athletes.
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 percent of our total revenue directly in athlete support, and that amount is growing.”
But Symmonds 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 blog on Huffington Post.
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 spelled 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.
In another posting, Oliver tweeted: “Personally I don’t care what I have to wear in order to be at the Worlds or Olympics. But we’re individuals and have different ideologies.”
Former U.S. Olympic distance runner Kara Goucher, meanwhile, voiced support for Symmonds.
“I am beyond devastated for @NickSymmonds. @usatf, you are sending convicted drug cheats and keeping home a clean silver medalist,” she tweeted.
Justin Gatlin, the fastest man in the world this year, is part of the U.S. team. He 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 U.S. 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.
Reporting by Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina; Editing by Larry Fine