Much of the Olympic fanfare aside from the competition itself will be different in Tokyo this summer.
One tradition expected to go by wayside: pin trading.
Every two years, spectators from across the globe travel to a host city and trade the thousands of pins produced by stakeholders in the Games. For some fans, it's a big deal.
But the COVID-19 restrictions outlined in the organizing committee's "playbook," along with foreign spectators prohibited from attending this year, would make the swapping of pins nearly impossible.
Coincidentally, the International Olympic Committee had been in partnership with nWay, a video game developer and subsidiary of Animoca Brands. nWay will follow Nintendo as the IOC's video game partner following the Tokyo Games, nWay CEO Taehoon Kim told USA TODAY Sports on Tuesday.
But in this case, the IOC saw an opportunity to use nWay's experience in developing non-fungible tokens (NFTs) to create another aspect of fan engagement – and potentially revive a thought-to-be casualty of a global pandemic.
Not even pins can outlast the digital age.
NFT pins, officially licensed intellectual property of the IOC and produced by nWay, will become available June 17.
A "legendary" series pin of a poster from the 1896 Athens Games. (Photo: nWay)
A pin of an aquatics pictogram when Tokyo first hosted the Olympics, 1964. (Photo: nWay)
"(Fans) can now connect with the excitement of the Games in a whole new way and own a piece of Olympic history," IOC managing director of television and marketing services Timo Lumme said in a statement.
The trading might take place on the blockchain rather than in person, but it's one way to preserve tradition, Kim said.
“Both nWay and the IOC felt that was a tradition that would do well in the video world, by making digital pins, NFTs, which are much more collectible,” Kim said.
The deal with the IOC involves the Olympic Heritage Collection, which ranges from the Athens 1896 Games to the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014. Kim thinks it will do well with Olympic pin-traders, described as a "hard-core" group by the New York Times last week.
“It’s great in a way that we can actually put in a lot of history into the NFT pins," Kim said. "For these NFT collectibles, history, having meaning – they (will) do very well from a collector’s perspective."
Those interested in collecting digital pins can buy "packs" that will feature various pins ranging from more than a century of Games. Current pricing is between $9-$499 per pack, depending on the level of rarity, and they'll be available on nWayPlay.com.
SUMMER OLYMPICS FAQs: When do the 2021 Olympics start? What new events will there be in Tokyo?
Later this year, a peer-to-peer marketplace will go online, providing the opportunity for trading and buying – a little different than swapping two smaller pins for a bigger one. (nWay built the NFTs on Flow, the same blockchain NBA Top Shot operates on.)
The third way fans can earn NFT pins is by playing the Olympic video game, due out before the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing. A NFT rewards component – delivered faster than physical prizes and less restrictions faced than currency – of the video games was already being discussed, hence the natural pivot to the NFT pins. There's also a Paris 2024 game being developed.
"Olympic pins started as a way to identify athletes, judges and officials, but over the past 125 years (pins have) become an Olympic Games tradition," Lumme's statement began. " … Today's announcement is a natural evolution of this tradition."
Follow Chris Bumbaca on Twitter @BOOMbaca.
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