Liam Morgan @ITG

Got, got, need. If you are an avid collector of football sticker albums in Britain, you will be all too familiar with that sequence of words, currently doing the rounds once again with the recent release of Panini’s latest edition for this year’s European Championships.

Despite the fact that I am comfortably into my twenties, I have no shame in admitting I have bought a copy of the book and am doing my best to ensure I actually finish one of the bleeding things for a change.

Yet while my biggest conundrum of late was debating whether it was worth swapping my coveted double of England and Manchester United defender Phil Jones for a player I needed to move a step closer to completing the Albanian team, the scale of my dilemma is nothing compared to some faced by ardent collectors of Olympic memorabilia.

Olympic collecting is a vast and booming industry. Consequentially, it leads people to do crazy things.

“Once you start you can’t stop,” keen collector Matthew Hotos of the United States tells me.

“It becomes quite expensive and that’s why sometimes you have to sell your doubles in order to buy more. I even know someone who sold his house to fund his collection!”

You can bet your bottom dollar there are many other similar stories present among the vast swathes of people who have flocked to Gothenburg for the 22nd World Olympic Collectors Fair, which began in the Swedish city on Friday (May 13) and concludes today.

The attending collectors have done deals and purchased vital items for their respective anthologies of memorabilia over the past three days. Pins, badges, medals, coins, pictures and Torches - you name it; it would have been traded, bought and sold at the Gothenburg Sports Museum on Kviberg Park.

The 22nd World Olympic Collectors Fair took place at the Gothenburg Sports Museum
The 22nd World Olympic Collectors Fair took place at the Gothenburg Sports Museum ©Olympic Museum

The annual fair brings together a unique world, full of bargain-hunters and collecting enthusiasts desperate to get their hands on a cherished item which might fulfill a life-long ambition to complete a particular catalogue in their armoury.

Not only that, but it offers the chance for like-minded individuals from across the collecting world to catch up and discuss ways in which the niche planet they inhabit can be developed and altered for the better.

That is the view of a prominent member of the International Association of Olympic Collectors (AICO), considered the leading collecting organisation which has 16 member associations and was founded in 2014.

It is also recognised by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), who have strived to offer their assistance to the body in recent years through several measures, such as establishing the IOC Commission on Philately, Numismatics and Memorabilia, to support the development of policies on Olympic collecting.

The globe’s most powerful sporting organisation also encouraged National Olympic Committees (NOCs) to do likewise with local collecting clubs and as a result a number of Olympic collecting groups today are closely integrated with their respective NOC.

“The International Olympic Collectors Fair is a major event for collectors worldwide: philately, numismatics, memorabilia and pins: each collector is likely to find something - a piece he was looking for or one he might stumble across,” AICO secretary Christophe Ait-Braham told insidethegames.

“It is also an opportunity to network, share, talk sports and Olympism, and over the years, finally meet your friends.

“A cultural programme also allows you to discover the host city, which is often an old Olympic city.

“Finally, since 2014, it is also an opportunity for all national associations and members of AICO to come together to work on developing and structuring the world of Olympic collectors.”

Matthew Hotos is a keen collector and said he knew of people who had sold their houses to fund their Olympic memorabilia habit
Matthew Hotos is a keen collector and said he knew of people who had sold their houses to fund their Olympic memorabilia habit ©Matthew Hotos/Facebook

Perhaps the most valued commodity in collecting is pins. They come in all shapes and sizes, representing everything from bid cities to International Federations, and always form one of the focal points of the World Olympic Collectors Fair.

One of the key messages passed to me ahead of my introduction into the Olympic Movement by my superiors was not just the popularity of pins, but also their importance. Wearing one immediately signifies your allegiance to a particular organisation, governing body or bid city, allowing you to strike up conversation and discussion with complete strangers - all purely because of the badge you are sporting.

They are literally everywhere at Olympic events. Hotos himself has a staggering 6,500 of the things.

“I collect all pin categories, NOC, media, sponsor and bid,” he said.

“I have over 6,500 pins, seven Torches and signed posters from athletes that I have framed. I also have a complete collection of participation medals from Athens 1896 to Sochi 2014 and IOC Session badges from various years.”

You simply cannot attend a competition or conference in the Olympic world without returning with a collection of pins of your own. During my time in Glasgow in October last year covering the Artistic Gymnastics World Championships, the volunteers were locked in a fierce but friendly battle to see who could collect the most, including a husband and wife. The latter begged me for an insidethegames pin just so she could get one over on her spouse. Safe to say she won, much to the disappointment of her husband.

It is at the Olympic Games where pin collecting truly thrives. Representatives from 206 NOCs, including athletes, officials and supporters, descend on the chosen host city every two years - though the summer edition is more of a trading hotbed due to the larger numbers of attendees - providing an ideal opportunity to swap and network with fellow collectors.

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Olympic pins are one of the most commonly traded items in the collecting world ©Getty Images

As Ait-Braham puts it: “Olympic collecting is so popular because it is in the DNA of Olympism - the culture and the exchange are a crucial part of the Games.”

A document on the website of the Olympin Club, another one of the world’s largest and most recognisable collecting organisations, offers further insight into just how valued pins are. “During each Olympic Games, pins become an unofficial, universal currency,” it reads.

“Attendees use them to buy things, to thank someone or to repay a favour.

“Pinheads have reported bartering their pins for taxi rides, event tickets and other souvenirs. Sometimes Olympic Games pins are used to elicit special treatment in restaurants, hotels, or even at border crossings.

“Some savvy traders negotiate really big deals; one United States collector, for instance, arranged to swap 15,000 Olympic Games pins for a three-week stay in Lillehammer House during the 1994 Winter Olympics.”

Of course, there is more to collecting than pins. Olympic memorabilia knows no bounds and there is a deluge of other items which can be gathered, stored and traded in the same way as the small metal badges.

Coins are one such item, with International Association of Athletics Federations member and President of the South American Athletics Confederation Roberto Gesta de Melo boasting one of the largest and most impressive collections in the world.

Featuring around 70,000 pieces, all stored in an air-conditioned annex next to his home in Amazonian city Manaus, his catalogue of items includes every single Olympic Games coin since Baron Pierre de Coubertin established the Modern Games in 1896. Quite some feat, it must be said.

De Melo is the proud owner of one of the rarest coins on the planet, with a solid gold Spanish peseta made for the Barcelona 1992 Games forming the focal point of his collection. Only 120 were made and the Brazilian was devastated when he had his original stolen. Thankfully, he was able to replace it, though he had to wait a decade to do so.

“I have all of the coins, from all the Olympic Games, and also their different varieties, such as coins featuring minting errors, and those with shiny and matte versions,” he told Rio 2016’s official website.

“This gold peseta is extremely rare, as it was only made for VIPs.”

Coins from Olympic Games are one of the preferred items of avid collector and IAAF member Roberta Gesta de Melo
Coins from Olympic Games are one of the preferred items of avid collector and IAAF member Roberta Gesta de Melo ©Roberta Gesta de Melo/Rio 2016

De Melo, who has been building his collection for 40 years, also possesses other cherished items in his compilation as he has commemorative coins from the Helsinki 1952 Games, as well as rare prototypes of coins developed for Olympics which never took place for one reason or another, such as Berlin 1916 and Tokyo 1940, both cancelled due to the ongoing World Wars at the time.

It is not just coins which take the Brazilian’s fancy. Greek urns, photos, posters, stamps, Torches and documents all adorn his collection, doubtless the envy of many of his counterparts all across the globe.

With the increased popularity of collecting - the fact that the World Olympic Collectors Fair is already in its 22nd year demonstrates this perfectly - it is little wonder the bug has made its way to the IOC membership. International Boxing Association (AIBA) President and Executive Board member Ching-Kuo Wu can lay claim to a collection of similar standard to that of De Melo.

The Taiwanese is one of the most prominent collectors within the IOC, with a catalogue of over 25,000 pieces of memorabilia, most of which are spread across four Olympic Museums he established in China - the Xiamen Olympic Museum, Tianjin Dagong Olympic Museum, Samaranch Memorial and Nanjing Olympic Museum - to help house his ever-growing portfolio.

The 69-year-old, who has led his sport since 2006, has been gathering and assembling various items for 26 years, and his passion for the past time shows no obvious signs of relenting.

“My Olympic collection started in 1980 when I attended the Moscow Olympic Games that year,” he told insidethegames.

“After more than three decades, my collections have totalled more than 25,000 pieces, which are now the exhibitions of the four Olympic museums I established in China.

“The items I value most include Coubertin's manuscripts, the Olympic Torches of each Olympic Games, and the over 16,000 items entrusted me by former IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch.

“I understand that most IOC Members have Olympic memorabilia, but the quantity of and their interest in collection vary. Now I am the only one who created four Olympic museums.”

The demand for more information and knowledge about collecting, of which the likes of De Melo and CK Wu possess in abundance, brought about the establishment of the AICO two years ago. Since their formal introduction into the collecting arena, the body has handed its members the opportunity to interact with other like-minded individuals outside of the scheduled events they put on each year.

AIBA President CK Wu is one of the biggest collectors within the IOC membership and opened museums to help house his memorabilia
AIBA President CK Wu is one of the biggest collectors within the IOC membership and opened museums to help house his memorabilia ©CK Wu

The body is led by Poland’s Roman Andrzej Babut, an avid stamp collector from birth, according to his mother, and their website takes you through the years of Olympic collecting, thought to have begun as an individual pursuit in 1894. A  number of clubs were set up in the 1960s, namely in Italy, Poland, the United States, the former Czechoslovakia and Germany. It presents a rich tapestry which heralds back to the early era of Olympism.

“The IOC and its cultural heritage department and whose window is the extraordinary Olympic Museum in Lausanne wished to enable collectors to have a method to develop the world of Olympic collectors,” Ait-Braham said.

“After months of work, AICO was founded in 2014 in Lausanne.

“AICO brings together 16 national associations and new ones will soon join us. The AICO is an organisation recognised by the IOC and almost every continent will be represented.

“In each edition of the Games, new collectors appear - it is something unique!”

Collecting is not unique in other ways, however, as it faces problems and challenges like any other activity in the world of sport, most notably when people do not embrace the spirit it is meant to portray.

Believe it or not, there is a dark side to what would appear to be a jovial, care-free activity at first glance.

There have been several reports of instances where over-zealous collectors have been known to rip people off and deliberately hand their counterpart a bad deal, actions you would usually associate with a dodgy back street car dealership rather than an activity which harnesses the best of the Olympic ideology. Who knew they were Del Boys in collecting?

Craig Perlow, described as a seasoned collector in a newsletter - entitled Pin Points: The Official Newsletter of the 1996 Olympic Games Pin Society  - recalls one such person who didn’t quite play by the pin-collecting etiquette back at the Atlanta Games.

“This individual takes pleasure in ripping people off,” he said. “It is just sad someone like that is involved in pin trading.

“For some people, pin trading isn’t fun - it’s a competitive thing. They have an agenda different from that of pure enthusiasts, whose purpose is to have fun and meet people.”

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CK Wu's collection contains around 25,000 items ©CK Wu

Holes can be picked in everything that is good in the Olympic world - of which collecting is surely a prime example - particularly in the age we currently live in where sport, tainted by doping and corruption scandals across the spectrum, is at its lowest ebb.

It is therefore uplifting to hear the reasons behind why these people do what they do. Why do they spend countless hours and funds on building a collection of Olympic memorabilia? What is their motivation?

Hotos, who was the licensing manager for the Athens 2004 Organising Committee, comes across as a perfect example of what might be deemed to be a purist, as do CK Wu and De Melo.

The American points to the status and prestige of the Games as his prime rationale for his love of Olympic collecting, further demonstrated by the fact he once spent $8,000 (£5,600/€7,100) on an Olympic flame lantern, which holds the Torch Relay flame when traveling on air, to enhance his collection.

“The Olympics are a unique event and everyone wants a piece of history,” he says.

“You have a representation of 206 nations at this event and everyone is proud of their country. I remember for the Athens Games anything that had the Athens 2004 logo on it was collectible, even plain paper with the Athens 2004 letterhead was sought after.”

Panini football stickers are one of the best collected items outside of the Olympic world
Panini football stickers are one of the best collected items outside of the Olympic world ©Getty Images

CK Wu agrees. “Each edition of the Olympic Games left me with wonderful and unforgettable memories,” he said.

“To keep those moments alive and impart the Olympic spirits with the younger generations have been the drive for me to collect associated items.”

Wu’s point resonates with many of us - even with me and my enjoyment of collecting the Panini football sticker books. One day I will head up into my loft and locate the previous editions of the albums, beginning with my first in 1998, to keep the memories of my own childhood alive.