The growing tribe of hobbyists and hawkers at London 2012


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The Independent Online

Jawad Khan and Coca Cola Inc have little in common. The latter is a global corporation which last year had revenues of £29bn, while Mr Khan is an east London market stall holder with a nice line in polyester tracksuits. But what unites them is their fervent desire to benefit from being associated with the Olympic Games.

Mr Khan is one of several dozen traders in the Stratford Mall, a 1960s shopping centre on the edge of the Olympic Park and the poor relation to Westfield, the temple to high end mammon through which it is expected 70 per cent of those attending London 2012 will pass en route to the sporting extravaganza.

Only a small share of the five million people due to pass through the Olympic Park in the next fortnight will take the opportunity to visit the Stratford Mall, a sort of Olympian souk whose offerings include a flea market with a Christian Science reading room and a Lithuanian food store.

But that is not stopping its entrepreneurial tenants - and a growing tribe of hobbyists, hawkers and spivs gravitating around the epicentre of London 2012 - from emulating the grand corporate sponsors and trying to make a few quid out of the Olympics.

Ranging from a former stockbroker who has published a debut novel about a terrorist attack on the Olympics and is touting for sales on Amazon to enthusiasts who collect enamelled badges or "pins", a caravan of hawkers is attempting to navigate the ferociously-policed grey area between official merchandise and offerings which may be loosely described as Games-related souvenirs.

The Independent revealed earlier this month that the Olympic Delivery Authority has amassed a team of 286 enforcement officers who are touring the immediate vicinity of Games venues to crack down on any traders judged to be infringing strict trademark rules or peddling counterfeit goods.

Mr Khan, 26, is not concerned. He has been doing a roaring trade in his "London 2012" t-shirts which studiously avoid the replication of any Olympic symbols but, with their depictions of leaping sports stars, are clearly aimed at one event.

He said: “Business is good. Trade is up 30 to 40 per cent and we’ve planned for it. We ordered our stock four or five months ago and I don’t think they’ll be after us. We’ve been very careful. We’re for people who can’t afford the expensive official merchandise but want something to remember the event by. They’re only £5. This is what we’ve been waiting for. We’ll still be here long after people have lost interest in Westfield.”

While the core Olympic sponsors, who have paid the International Olympic Committee a total of £600m for the privilege of carrying the Five Rings on their merchandise, can expect a rise in their share price, this lower league of Olympian hustler have to work hard for every penny of profit.

David Albert, 61, spotted his London 2012 opportunity when he re-wrote his first novel – a thriller about a dastardly plot to thwart the discovery of a cure for cancer – to revolve around the Olympics. Business cards advertising the book – Chameleon 2012 – were being handed out to shoppers outside the Stratford Mall today.

Mr Albert, clearly a man with an eye for publicity, said: “I have been taken aback by the response, seeing as it’s my debut novel.

“We were recently told that Barack Obama has a copy. We got feedback from someone in the government. I was amazed.”

Others, however, are prepared to play a bit faster and looser with the Games’ marketing rules. A man who would only give his name as Gary was this week doing a rapid trade in “I saw the torch” flags as he followed the Olympic Flame relay through the capital.

Hiding his stock under his jacket as a police van went past, he said: “To be honest, I don’t know if it’s illegal or not, but I’m not taking any chances. They’re so bloody anal about all these rules. I’m only trying to make a few nicker and I’m not exactly in competition with Panasonic am I?”

Scotland Yard said today it was not providing a running commentary on the number of arrests related to Olympics trademark enforcement or petty crime. The ODA did not respond to a request for a comment.

Elsewhere, street hawkers of a different variety carry out a more genteel trade just feet from the security fences guarding the Olympic Park.

The Olympic “pin” – an enamelled metal badge commemorating any and every aspect of the Games – has become a significant part of the sporting extravaganza. Hundreds of thousands are swapped, bought and traded by enthusiasts who gather on the fringes of each Olympics.

Tim Jamieson, 64, an architect from Virginia, was among a line of pin traders gathered outside Stratford International station, with the blessing of the ODA. He said: “This is very much part of the Olympics. Some guys trade for money but most of us prefer to swap. It’s just a great hobby. We’re not here to make big profits.”