Olympic Torch Sparks eBay Confusion

At every Olympic games, claims of corporate hijacking and profiteering become more prominent. For London 2012 however, it seems at least ordinary citizens can join the cash-in.

Two separate Olympic torch auctions have shown that even after it’s been with us for several years, there are still some suckers who either don’t pay close attention to eBay listings or simply don’t think things through.

The first is a genuine auction of the Olympic relay torch, which raised a staggering £153,100 (approx US$240,000) with the listing promising the money will go to charity.

The problems start with the fact that the previous sentence has one deliberately misleading word in it. Technically it’s not “the” relay torch, but rather “a” relay torch. While the flame itself is theoretically (if only symbolically) the same throughout its journey from Athens to and around the host nation, for this year’s event each individual runner will use a separate torch.

The torch Sarah Milner Simonds carried has an estimated manufacturing value of £495 ($780), though she took up the offer made to all runners by organisers to buy it for £215 ($340.) And to make things worse for the buyer, there is very little scarcity value as there are 8,000 runners on the route and thus 8,000 “genuine Olympic torches.”

News of the auction success has caused many other runners to auction their torches (in most cases, before they have even laid their hands on it), so the asking prices will likely slump in the coming days. In the meantime, Simonds is still awaiting payment and frankly I don’t fancy her chances of getting it.

It’s seemingly inevitable that there’ll be cases of bogus torches going up for sale in the coming weeks, but some people are being even more sneaky. In a throwback to the days of auctions of a “Playstation box and instruction manual” (in which the trickery lies with the lack of a comma), one enterprising seller managed to get bidding up to £20,000 ($31,500) for a product whose description began “This photo shows a genuine Olympic 2012 relay torch” — leaving bidders to figure out the item for sale was in fact the photograph. Sadly for the seller, eBay pulled the auction before they could test the letter of the law.

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