Want to stop bogus pins? – Volunteers Needed

I hope that you have found the information about NOC pins from Sochi helpful. This week, I was asked by an Olympin member to mention this Tokyo 2020 bid pin:


This pin has been offered on eBay likely and is very likely illegitimate. This is a reminder that while the focus of our committee has been on NOC pins, there are all kinds of bogus Olympic memorabilia out there. Here is a media pin from Sochi that was verified by the US Olympic Committee to be unauthorized:


There are certainly counterfeit winner and participation medals as well.

I hope that one of the legacies of our committee will be the website that we’ve set up to display pins and a strategy for authenticating them. While we’ve concentrated on NOC pins, this same framework can be used to handle the other genres of Olympic pins. Each collecting area will have unique challenges. For example, it may be quite straightforward to find a marketing person at each Olympic bid committee who can authenticate a bid pin while the bid is in existence. But after the bid has concluded, this could be more difficult. Likewise, media pins are sometimes produced by the individual reporters covering the Olympics. Is it possible to authenticate them? I don’t know.

What I do know is that all it takes is a couple of volunteers who are passionate about doing something to help to make a real difference. If anyone is interested in taking on some other area of Olympic collecting, please let me know at Illegal_Pin_Comm@comcast.net and I will put you in touch with someone who can help get you started.

Until next time, stay tuned.


Sochi Olympics Day 14 – Consider joining Olympin

It hardly seems possible that we are nearing the end of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic Games. Our Authenticity Project website now contains more than 200 images of NOC pins from these Olympics. In addition, we are starting to get more confirmations of authenticity from the NOCs as their personnel begin to head home. But this is not what I wanted to talk about today.

On seven occasions during these Olympics, the number of unique daily visitors to our Authenticity Project website has exceeded the total number of Olympin members. The reason for this is that the Olympic Board of Directors made the decision to open up our website to the world rather than limiting it to paying members. So, I have a question for the several hundred non-Olympin members visiting our site every day: Was this service valuable to you? If so, please consider becoming an Olympin member here. By becoming a member, you will receive four newsletters per year. But more importantly, you’ll gain access to more than 500 of the world’s keenest Olympic collectors.

Until next time, stay tuned.


Sochi Olympics Day 8 – NGB pins added

I hope that you are finding the information on our webpage useful. I cannot believe that the Sochi Games are halfway over. We have been very busy.

We currently have 189 images of NOC pins that are either new or in use in Sochi. 131 of these pins are dated and the other 58 are generic. 127 of these pins have been either verified authentic by the NOCs or are previously authenticated generic pins. 17 pins are rated Questionable or worse and 45 pins are still awaiting verification.

Something new is that we have begun to add NGB (National Governing Body) pins. These are pins produced by the sports organizations within a country like the United States Luge Association or the Canadian Curling Association. There are images of 14 of these NGB pins, but the number is expected to grow rapidly. We are adding these pins because it is sometimes difficult to differentiate them from normal NOC team pins. For example, all of the Canadian NGB pins we’ve seen so far have the Canadian Olympic Committee logo. Please note that it is more difficult to authenticate these pins because the NOC often does not know which of their NGBs is producing pins. To a large degree, we have to go by whether a NGB pin was traded in Sochi by a participant in that sport. This is a work in progress and we will let you know more as time goes on.

For now, enjoy the remainder of the Sochi Winter Olympic Games and stay tuned.



Our efforts to acquire images of legitimate pins prior to the start of the Games is paying off. As of this morning, we have pictures of 139 NOC pins that are either new or in use in Sochi. 101 of those pins are dated and 38 are generic. 106 are verified authentic and 7 have been repudiated by the NOCs. Here are the unauthorized pins:

SVK_2014_3  SVK_2014_1  SVK_2014_2  RUS_2014_2  RUS_2014_3  CAN_GE_15  CAN_2014_14

New pins are appearing nearly every hour and it will be some time before our authentication process begins to catch up. Our recommendation is that collectors concentrate on the authenticated pins first and give us some additional time to get feedback on the ones that are currently in the Not Yet Rated category. Please check our Authenticity Project website frequently as we are updating ratings and adding new pins constantly. If you happen to see a pin that we don’t have listed, please email us an image at Illegal_Pin_Comm@comcast.net and we will post the picture and attempt to authenticate it.

Until later, enjoy the Games and, as always, stay tuned.


Sochi Olympics Day 0 (February 7)

The Opening Ceremonies of the XXII Olympic Winter Games are underway in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, Russia. But through the miracle of television, we won’t be seeing it here on the west coast of the United States for another 10 hours or so. Since I have some time to kill, I thought that I would update everyone on where the Authenticity Project stands as we head into the Olympics.

Our efforts to acquire images of legitimate pins prior to the start of the Games is paying off. As of this morning, we have pictures of 139 NOC pins that are either new or in use in Sochi. 101 of those pins are dated and 38 are generic. 106 are verified authentic and 7 have been repudiated by the NOCs. Here are the unauthorized pins:

SVK_2014_3  SVK_2014_1  SVK_2014_2  RUS_2014_2  RUS_2014_3  CAN_GE_15  CAN_2014_14

New pins are appearing nearly every hour and it will be some time before our authentication process begins to catch up. Our recommendation is that collectors concentrate on the authenticated pins first and give us some additional time to get feedback on the ones that are currently in the Not Yet Rated category. Please check our Authenticity Project website frequently as we are updating ratings and adding new pins constantly. If you happen to see a pin that we don’t have listed, please email us an image at Illegal_Pin_Comm@comcast.net and we will post the picture and attempt to authenticate it.

Until later, enjoy the Games and, as always, stay tuned.


Buyer Beware

We are now less than two weeks from the start of the Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia. Teams from 88 countries have been selected and are beginning to make their way toward this resort on the Black Sea.

Most teams have received or are about to receive their Sochi pins, and these are starting to find their way into circulation. However, this is also when the fraudsters start putting their pins into circulation as well. For a NOC pin collector, this is a dangerous time. Little to nothing is known about the authenticity of the pins that are becoming available and it is the natural tendency of collectors to grab first and wonder about authenticity second. This is exactly what the producers of unauthorized NOC pins want you to do.

This is also a difficult time for our committee. The NOCs are at their absolute busiest in their preparations for the Sochi Olympics. Many committee members are already moving into the two Olympic Villages in preparation for the arrival of their teams. So it is nearly impossible to get feedback on the authenticity of the pins that are appearing unless members of our committee received pins directly from the NOC. Here is an example. Last week, this pin began to appear on eBay:


While this is not an indictment, the seller of this pin has been known to sell pins that later turned out to be unauthorized. Strike one. In addition, we have received three different dated Sochi Olympic pins directly from the Canadian Olympic Committee and this was not one of them. Strike two. We also know that this pin is based on authentic COC design from the mid-1990s. It is common for fraudsters to use old pin designs as a base because it is easier to copy a design than to design a new pin. Unfortunately, repeated emails to the COC asking whether they have authorized this pin have gone unanswered. As a result, the rating on this pin is still “Not yet rated”. This is extremely frustrating to us. However, we started this project with the goal of producing ratings that were not based on hearsay, but that were as objective as possible. So, “Not yet rated” this pin will stay, at least until we receive additional feedback.

So what is a collector to do? Thanks to the NOCs that have responded to us directly and through the help of NOC pin producer Kingdom Pins (note: Committee member Daniel Beniston is Managing Director of Kingdom Pins), our website now has images of more than 20 authentic Sochi-dated NOC pins and that number increases to more than 50 if the retail pins from the United States, Canada and Japan are included. More are being added nearly every day. Our advice is to go after the authenticated NOC pins first and treat all not rated pins as if they may be unauthorized. We will continue to work on obtaining feedback for all pins without ratings so check back often. And if you happen to see a pin that is not yet listed, by all means send the image to: Illegal_Pin_Comm@comcast.net and we will begin the authentication process.

Until next time, stay tuned.


Coming soon…

Things have been pretty quiet lately with regard to both authentic and unauthorized NOC pins, but that is about to change. The clock is ticking down to the start of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia – as of today, there are only 35 days until the Opening Ceremonies. Most of the NOCs have completed or are close to completing their Olympic trials and will be outfitting their teams in the next three weeks.

According to Wikipedia, 86 nations have qualified at least one athlete for the Sochi Olympics. While not all of these nations may choose to attend, it looks like there will be slightly more NOCs in Sochi than were in Vancouver. This should mean plenty of authorized NOC pins to collect.

As we have been saying for some time, it is much easier to spot the unauthorized NOC pins if you know which ones are authorized. With that in mind, we have been working hard to acquire images of as many authorized pins as possible. Some of these are pins available for sale that we’ve discussed previously. These images have all been uploaded to our website. So too have images of the few new NOC pins that have been produced for Sochi that have shown up on eBay or other auction sites. But we have also been acquiring images of authorized pins that are not yet in circulation either directly from NOCs or from pin producers. We do not want to give anyone enough time to produce counterfeits of these pins so we have been holding onto these images. But this is about to change. On January 15th, we will go live with theses images. So be sure to tune in then. In the meantime, if you happen to see a pin that is not listed, please send the image to us at Illegal_Pin_Comm@comcast.net. And as always,

Stay tuned!


Retail Pins

Over the past ten years, NOCs have come to understand that they can generate significant revenue through the sale of their pins. How they achieve that revenue varies greatly. Many NOCs will send collectors pins in exchange for small donations. Some NOCs have taken this to the next level and set up their own stores to sell pins – see the Japanese Olympic Committee store and the United States Olympic Committee store. Others license the production of their retail pins to one of their sponsors – see the HBC Team Canada store. Still others have pin producers sell their pins on their behalf – see the Kingdom Pins website.

For the last week or so, debate has raged within our committee as to whether these “retail” NOC pins should be considered NOC pins. Some members feel that a pin is only an NOC pin when it is used by the Olympic team and/or its leaders. Others feel that a pin produced by a sponsor is a sponsor pin even if it looks like a NOC pin. Another group believes that an authorized pin that uses the NOC logo is a NOC pin regardless of who produced it.

In truth, no consensus was reached on whether to consider retail pins NOC pins or not. However, consensus was reached that if you have pins in circulation that look like these:

USA_2014_Retail_8 JPN_GE_3


then it is important to let collectors know that these pins are for sale. So, our website will continue to add images of these retail pins as they become available. If any of them are eventually used by their Olympic team, we will let you know that as well. Whether you decide to add these pins to your collection is, as always, up to you.

Until next time, stay tuned.


It takes a community

Before we get into the meat of this blog, we’d like to pause to remember John Kinnaman, who passed away last week. If he were here, John would be the first to admit that his position as a founding member of our committee was a complete accident. John was one of the first people to volunteer to join our committee because he thought that we would be covering all types of unauthorized Olympic memorabilia, not just NOC pins. But rather than quit when he realized that we were going in a different direction, he stayed and provided invaluable feedback from the point-of-view of a non-NOC expert that helped start us off in the right direction. Even more importantly, as organizer for the Olympin show in Chicago, he understood the importance of what we were doing and decided to ask our committee to speak at the annual banquet; further increasing our visibility within the club. He will be missed.

There are now only 75 days remaining until the start of the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.  If Vancouver is any indication, approximately 80 NOCs will enter teams and most will have NOC pins to trade. In addition, a number of fraudsters will be present trying to trick the collecting public into purchasing or trading legitimate pins for their “creations”. We suspect that most of the illegitimate pins are put into circulation either right before the start of the Games or shortly thereafter so it is critical to identify the illegitimate pins as soon as possible to protect collectors and prevent the fraudsters from profiting from them.

Trying to identify all of the NOC pins and separate the legitimate from the illegitimate will be our group of five intrepid committee members. How can so few do so much in so little time? That is a question that we have spent most of the last year thinking about. Our strategy is to identify as many of the legitimate NOC pins as possible prior to the start of the Olympics so that our committee members in Sochi can focus on a smaller number of unknown pins. Currently we are:

1) Contacting pin producers – While we know that most of the legitimate NOC pins are produced by small companies within each country, there are still a fair number that are produced by larger organizations like Honav, Kingdom Pins, Trofe, Aminco and Laurie Artiss. We have been in contact with these companies and have arrangements with at least one to provide images of their Sochi NOC pins prior to the start of the Olympics.

2) Contacting NOCs – Likewise, we have been contacting NOCs directly asking for images of their pins for Sochi and have gotten at least one positive response so far. Next month, we will follow up the emails with letters to the NOCs to try to get either their pins or images of them.

3) Watching eBay auctions – We are constantly monitoring eBay for auctions of new NOC pins.

When a new pin is identified, we put the image onto our website: http://www.olympinclub.com/nocpins_search.php, usually within 24 hours and send off an email to the NOC in question asking whether the pin is legitimate.

So far, we have posted images of 90 newly identified NOC pins. Perhaps a quarter of these are from a group of likely unauthorized generic NOC pins that appear to have originated in China. Another large group of these pins are pins produced by Honav/USA for the US Olympic Committee and available for sale on the USOC website (such as this one):


We expect that at least another 100 pins will turn up between now and the conclusion of the Games. Will we be able to get them loaded onto our database and authenticated in real-time? I don’t know, but we are certainly going to try. In her book It Takes a Village: And Other Lessons Children Teach Us, Hilary Clinton talked about the significant impacts that groups outside the family can have on child development. I would argue that it also takes a community of collectors to combat unauthorized NOC pins. While we will do our best, receiving help from people outside our committee can make the difference between success and failure. How can you help? Keep checking on our website. If you see a pin that we don’t have, whether you believe that it is legitimate or not, take a picture of it and send it to us at Illegal_Pin_Comm@comcast.net. If you don’t want to buy or trade for the pin in question, just ask the owner if you can photograph it and tell them that you are trying to document all of the existing NOC pins for Sochi. The sooner we can get images of all the NOC pins in Sochi online, the sooner collectors can make informed decisions about whether to buy or trade for a particular pin. Thank you in advance for any help that you can provide and, as always, stay tuned.



Where is Abkhazia and what does it have to do with unauthorized NOC pins?

Where is Abkhazia and what does it have to do with unauthorized NOC pins? Can you guess? First, beside being the answers to a National Geographic trivia question, the Republic of Abkhazia and the Republic of South Ossetia are disputed territories along the border between Georgia and Russia in the vicinity of Sochi, site of the 2014 Winter Olympics. I won’t go too deeply into the history, but both of these areas were semiautonomous regions within Georgia before and after the end of the Soviet Union. You may recall that Russia and Georgia fought a short, very one-sided war in 2008 when both republics broke away from Georgia and Russia prevented the Georgian military from reasserting control.

What, you might ask, does this have to do with unauthorized NOC pins? There are two parts to the answer. First, this week, the IOC reacted strongly to news that the Russian NOC had listed both territories in a database of countries eligible to take part in the Sochi Winter Olympics. Here is what they said:

“The IOC currently recognizes 204 National Olympic Committees,” an IOC official told      Insidethegames.

“As stated in the Olympic Charter, ‘they have the exclusive authority for the representation of their respective countries at the Olympic Games and at the regional, continental or world multi-sports competitions patronized by the IOC’.

“To be eligible for participation in the Olympic Games a competitor must be entered by his NOC as recognized by the IOC.

“The IOC does recognize an NOC for Georgia (which has jurisdiction over the whole territory of Georgia) but does not recognize an NOC for Abkhazia or South Ossetia.”

The recognition of a new NOC requires, among other things, that it be recognized as a country by the international community. To date, these territories have been recognized by five countries: Russia, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Nauru and Tuvalu – a very interesting list, but only about 2.5% of the international community.

The second part of the answer is that “new” NOCs are a frequent target for producers of unauthorized NOC pins. Why? Because if you are a collector of NOC pins, wouldn’t you want the first pin produced by a new NOC? From the pin producer’s point-of-view, if there is no actual NOC, then there is no one except the IOC to hassle them about their pins. Here is an example from a few years ago:


Eritrea, in East Africa along the Red Sea, won independence from Ethiopia in 1993 after more than 30 years of struggle. The Eritrean NOC was founded in 1996 and was recognized by the IOC in 1999. Shortly after that, this pin started appearing. There was only one problem: there are only a handful of NOCs that have their national flag as the NOC logo, and Eritrea was not one of them. Flags are common vehicles for these bogus “first NOC” pins because their designs are widely distributed.

Another of these “new NOC” pins appeared in London:


to take advantage of the fact that the IOC allowed marathon runner Guor Marial from the new country of South Sudan to take part in the Summer Olympics under the Olympic flag. There was just one small problem: as of the start of the London Olympic, there was no South Sudan NOC. This is why Guor marched into the Olympic Stadium under the Olympic Flag and not the flag of South Sudan. The story from people trading or selling this pin was that it was to publicize the new country and Guor’s attendance in London. That might even be true. However, as we have mentioned earlier, only the IOC and the NOCs are permitted to use the Olympic rings logo. That makes this pin illegal no matter who produced it.

So don’t be surprised if someone turns up selling or trading a new NOC pin from Abkhazia during the Sochi Winter Olympic Games. It will just be the latest in a long line of similar bogus pins.

Stay tuned until next time.


Stay tuned until next time.


Odds and Ends

Today, we come to the end of our series describing the various types of unauthorized NOC pins. While the first three categories ( counterfeits, outlaws and renegades ) are the most common, there are two more categories to discuss: backdoor and ambush pins.

A backdoor NOC pin is a pin produced by over-manufacturing a legitimate NOC pin. Typically, a NOC or person authorized by a NOC will design an Olympic pin and then place an order with a manufacturer for the production of the pin. Besides the design, the production order will specify the quantity of pins being ordered. While a lot of factors go into the decision of how many pins to produce, this number ultimately determines whether a pin will be common or scarce.

Unfortunately, some unethical manufacturers have produced additional pins of designs that they believe will be popular for their own benefit. These are backdoor pins. Since they are produced in the same factory with the same mold, they are indistinguishable from the original, legitimate pins. So how can you avoid these pins? One way is to look at who is selling these pins. You will find that the dealers who are selling other types of unauthorized NOC pins will have these as well. Another way is to notice when a pin that should be scarce appears to be quite common. Some manufacturers put production totals on their pins – for example:


You may recognize this as one of the infamous Somalia animal outlaw pins, but the point is still valid. The backstamp indicates that 200 of these pins were produced. This should make this pin extremely hard to find. If this were a legitimate NOC pin, many NOC collectors worldwide would be trying to add this pin to their collections. How many of these pins should be left after everyone who wants one has added it to their collections? The answer should be none, or at most a few. Yet these pins show up on eBay week after week, month after month. Clearly the number of available pins must be greater than the 200 indicated. It is exactly the same in the case of backdoor NOC pins; the supply of these pins is greater than it should be.

The second type of pin I’d like to discuss is the ambush pin. Technically, these pins are legal because no registered games marks (rings, logos, mascots, etc.) are used. The goal of these pins is to trick the collector into thinking that they are Olympic pins. The most common ambush pins are sponsor pins – a company wants to make it look like they are an Olympic sponsor without actually sending the IOC any money. For example, there were many Starbuck pins in Vancouver during the 2010 Winter Olympics. Starbucks was not (and is not) a sponsor of the International Olympic Committee or either the United States or Canadian National Olympic Committees, so why were all of these pins appearing? Because they wanted to increase their sales to all of the Olympic spectators in Vancouver without having to pay a lot of money to be an official sponsor.

I have not personally seen an example of an ambush NOC pin, but I can suggest a couple possible scenarios. Imagine that an Olympic athlete sees all of the Olympic pin trading going on in the Olympic Village and on the street and wants to get involved. But there is a problem – her NOC did not produce any NOC pins for this Olympics. While walking through town, she spots a store owned by an émigré from her country and goes in. There she finds that the store owner has produced some small pins with two crossed flags: his homeland’s flag and his new home’s flag. The athlete purchases a bunch of these pins and goes back to the Olympic Village to get in on the pin trading. The pin was clearly not produced to be an NOC pin, but the athlete is using it as if it were one.

This is a fairly innocent situation if the athlete is just trying to enjoy the atmosphere within the Olympic Village. Now imagine that a long-time NOC collector decides to produce similar crossed flag pins with one flag being the Olympic host nation and the other flag being a variety of some of the more obscure Olympic nations. His goal is to make it appear that these are the only pins that these NOCs produced and trade them for authentic NOC pins. Since the flags are in the public domain, the pins are legal, but producing them for the purpose of fooling other collectors to benefit himself is clearly unethical.

Avoiding ambush NOC pins should be fairly easy. It is very uncommon for an authorized NOC pin not to include some registered games mark like the Olympic rings because the NOC is legally allowed to use them. So, if someone offers you a “NOC” pin with no games marks, just say no.

This concludes our series of posts about the different types of unauthorized NOC pins. I hope that they have given you a better idea of what unauthorized pins are out there and some ways to avoid being taken advantage of.

Next time we’ll discuss the process our committee uses to discover unauthorized NOC pins and get the information to collectors. Stay tuned.