Calling All Swimmers With The Olympic Rings Tattoo

Photo Courtesy: Peter H.Bick

By Casey Barrett

It’s a branded rite of passage that announces membership in one of the most exclusive clubs on earth. For many it’s the only ink they’ll ever get. The Olympic rings tattoo – that’s one you’ll never regret. And over the last thirty years, it’s become more and more de rigueur among newly minted body proud Olympians. Except now apparently it’s illegal.

On Monday, May 2nd, British Paralympic champion Josef Criag was disqualified at the IPC European Swimming Championships because the 19-year-old has a tattoo of the rings emblazoned over his heart. He was DQ’ed after his prelims swim in the 100 freestyle- because the tattoo of those rings “breached advertising regulations.” Said the utterly out of touch spokesman for the Paralympic International Committee: “Body advertising is not allowed in any way whatsoever and that includes the Olympic rings. The athlete did not wear a cover and was therefore disqualified.

Um, excuse me? There are so many things wrong with this that one sputters trying to put the outraged thoughts in order. A tattoo of the Olympic rings is advertising? Oh really? So, that would mean that every Olympian is, by that definition, a spokesman or woman for the Olympic movement? When the athletes recite the Olympic Creed at the Opening Ceremony, is it in service of a corporate brand? Somewhere Pierre de Coubertin is rolling over in his grave.

There’s no sense enumerating all the numbskull behavior of the IOC. Like FIFA it’s a more of less corrupt and clueless organization that happens to oversee one of the planet’s most beautiful times of togetherness and competition. They’re bureaucracies drunk with power they only think they have. Like the TV networks that broadcast the Games, these organizations convince themselves that they are the center of it all. They’re not. Like the cameras that film the action, they are there merely in a role of subservience- to cover and support the actual action, for the actual starts of the show: the athletes.

But enough about the IOC, let’s get back to those tattoos. I think it’s time to shake things up a bit. To everyone who has the Olympic rings tattooed anywhere on your body: Take a pic and share it! Send it out far and wide. Let the IOC see exactly what they’re banning. Let them see the legions of proud Olympians, then and now, that have inked these rings forever on their body. That ink is now ground to disqualify you from the very competition you sacrificed your young lives to get to. Sweet lords of irony, deliver me from this madness.

I’m one of that tribe with the ink. I got the tat in August of 1996 at a tattoo parlor in Dallas, Texas, a few weeks after the Atlanta Games. Got it over my heart, just like Joseph Craig, along with the Canadian Maple Leaf. I’m proud to say that it was Canada that started this whole Olympic rings tattoo trend. It was Victor Davis in 1984, to be precise. At the Los Angeles Games, Davis raced to gold in the 200 breaststroke with the Leaf and the rings tattooed over his heart. It soon became semi-required for future generations of Canadian Olympic swimmers. No one really talked about it, no one gave you a hard time if you didn’t do it; it was just one of those things that you felt compelled to do. Four years later, the trend was picked up stateside. ’88 Olympian Chris Jacobs, a three-time medalist for Team USA says he spotted Victor Davis’s tat and was inspired to follow suit. He’s believed to be the first U.S. Olympic swimmer that got the rings tat. Many others have since followed.

Are you one of them? If so, wherever you’re from, take a pic and share it. It’s time to call the IOC on this nonsense. For Paralympian Josef Craig and everyone else that wears the proudest tattoo there is – stand up on the blocks and wear it proud.

Dare them to disqualify one more athlete.

Reprinted from Caps and Goggles, by Casey Barrett

All commentaries are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Swimming World Magazine nor its staff.


  1. Andrew Webber

    It’s the only thing the modern Olympics are about. No surprise really.

  2. Donald P. Spellman

    Casey hits the nail on the head here (repeatedly).
    Did the IOC not watch any of the men’s swim races the last 3 games?

  3. Cindi Dayton

    Shawn Kornoelje had a very insightful commentary about this on my profile page… Very enlightening.

    • Cindi Dayton

      oh sorry! l made that post public now so everyone can read it.

  4. avatar
    Steve Justice

    Actually Steve Lundquist won the Gold in the 100m breaststroke in Los Angeles in 1984. Victor Davis won the silver, but did win gold in the 200m breaststroke.

    • avatar


  5. Michelle Graham

    Emily Seebohm Blair Evans.. What the hell getting disqualified because of your Olympic Rings tatoo what is the world coming to ???

    • Marian Ward

      Yes , I agree , what IS the world coming to?? Who makes such rediculous rules ? Someone who has never even swam in competition ., no doubt.!!

    • Thea Michalak

      I knew it’s a secured logo… But mine is not as visible as his

    • Danica Burnett

      Haha yea that’s good, a little ridiculous that they are more concerned about the logo than the swimming though

  6. avatar

    The swimmer was DQ’ed at a para swimming competition which has nothing to do with the IOC.
    So the Paralympic organization may be involved but the IOC and the Paralympic organization are not the same.

    • avatar
      Taylor Morefield

      Not true at all! They are an arm of the IOC and follow the same regulations! Sorry I am a wheelchair racer and know all about this. Plea do your research.

  7. avatar

    The IOC is full of crap with many things when it comes to advertising (not being allowed to use the “wrong” credit card and stuff like that), but I really doubt this has anything to do with the IOC. It’s a matter of the organization of these specific European Championships, which might be the IPC, but definitely not the IOC.

  8. Amie Krueger

    Amen!!! They better give him his race back & APOLOGIZE!!!!!

  9. Stan Sheppard

    A disgraceful decision. Commercial/Branding/Marketing over the apparent ethos of the games. This guy is an Olympic champ, surely he deserves and has earned the right.

    It says a lot when you can come to the start line doped and get away with it, but heaven help the athlete with a branding violation.

  10. Dave Mack

    I did an ironman last year and yes i got the tattoo on my calf like so many do. Does that mean i cant do the great north run or even a park run for fear of being DQ’d off some jobsworth wanting to make a name for themself?

    • John Mcleod

      Poor example…. Olympics and Paralympics are two completely different organizations with different logos. Your example would make sense if you had a Spartan Race tattoo while competing in an ironman event.

      • avatar
        Taylor Morefield

        They are different but IOC is still in control of or has a say with IPC and we follow the same regulations! Please do your research! Thanks

  11. Rachel Miller

    The key here is he is a paralympian swimming at an IPC event. IOC and the olympic rings are from a seperate events/brands/organisations. Its like having a nike tattoo at an adidas event. They wouldnt allow it. He was asked to cover it and as soon as he did he was allowed to race.

    • James Hooper

      The key here is, it’s none of their business what tattoo he has on his body.

    • Cheryl Thomas

      It’s not just because it wasn’t IPC my daughter couldn’t wear her blackout googles that had the Canadian Paralympic symbol on them because the officials would disqualify her. It is all logos unless they authorized by the IOC and it has to be the exact size and placement and the list is so long it is sickening!

    • Jill Peterson Hampton

      Even at my kids high school swimming you can not wear a club logo on your cap or you get dq.

  12. Polly Lorimer

    Owen Davies Jack Ford Adam Chant Rory Huggins

  13. Cindi Dayton

    It was IPC that disqualified the swimmer b/c of their advertising rule, not IOC. IOC will issue permission letters if asked.

  14. avatar

    He has a tattoo of the Olympic rings even though he is NOT an Olympian. Whatever you think of the corporate branding issue, this fact still stands. The Paralympics has a completely separate logo, so much so that all Olympics rings logos were removed from the venues before the London Paralympics (I was a spectator for both).

    Not belittling Josef’s achievements, and I admire para athletes greatly, but competing in the Paralympics is nowhere near as much of an achievement as competing in the Olympic games. In my opinion he does not have the right to wear that tattoo.

    • avatar
      Bob Nudd

      you may wish to investigate your claims a little Joe

    • avatar

      Joe, you were correct until you stated that “competing in the Paralympics is nowhere near as much of an achievement as competing in the Olympic games.” That comment is not only incredibly ignorant, but offensive and plain untrue. Seeing as you were only a mere “spectator” at both in 2012 (and not actually athletic enough to compete in either), it seems you are not qualified to make that kind of claim.

      • avatar
        Un-athletic Joe

        As I said, that is just my opinion. Maybe it’s just my bitterness at not making it as an able-bodied swimmer like you suggest. I’m not trying to devalue para swimmers at all, but when you consider the pool of potential competitors for the Olympics and Paralympics versus the amount of athletes who compete, there is a clear mismatch (by several orders of magnitude). My comment maybe was offensive to some, but ‘untrue’? I’d like to see anyone justify that.
        I’ve had the privilege of training with Paralympic champions and Olympians, so I feel like I have a good amount of experience to base my assertions off. Sorry if I offended you, but I saw so many comments which seemingly confused the Paralympics and Olympics (see Stan Sheppard above) I couldn’t help but comment. Maybe I got carried away.

      • avatar

        You do seem very quick to make assertions about my athletic ability and character, but you didn’t actually provide any arguments against my points. I look forward to hearing them

    • avatar

      Oh wow, as a former Paralympian it actually breaks my heart to see someone comment these kinds of things. Like you know anything about achievements. You know nothing about what some of these athletes have been through/have to go through on the daily. They work their asses off just like any able bodied athlete. They would never EVER say anything to cut someone down like that. Saying the Olympics is a bigger achievement is like saying as a para athlete you will never be equal, you are not a great achievement, and you don’t deserve to be put on the same podium as an able bodied athlete. So on behalf of my strong, loving, beautiful teammates I ask that you spend some time getting to know these people before sending hurtful messages like this to the world.

  15. John Sinclair

    Go Craig?????????wear that tattoo with pride!

    • Jacob Marchbank

      I was speaking to Moraig about this last night, she said that its been like this for a while

  16. avatar

    If you don’t like the rules don’t play the game or campaign to have them changed.

  17. avatar

    This is one of many issues with IPC. They don’t allow the IPC logo to be showing either. They also disqualify athletes if the club symbol / country flag is on both sides of the cap. There is a rule that they can only wear a cap with a small logo on one side of the cap. The Canadians had to take their official cap’s off at the ParaPan American games in 2011 because they had a red maple leaf on both sides of the cap. The team literally had to purchase new plain white caps to wear for the event.
    Some of these little rules cause such a stink….. but it is part of a bigger issue. Sigh

  18. avatar

    Sooooooo as a tattooed Olympian who raced at two games I nearly threw up in my mouth. Secondly the comment about “not having covered it up” if he had put concealer on to cover it up he would be disqualified for covering. His body with a substance that would help him move more easily through the water. I don’t even know what to do here besides hope that the British federation still allows him to qualify for the team based on other or previous performances. And as if there are not 100 more athletes at European champs that are not glaring at the official every day now. He should walk off the deck.

  19. avatar

    I hope every Olympic™ athlete gets the Olympic™ rings tattoo prior to Rio.

  20. avatar
    Kath Kenyon

    This is ridiculous. Especially as zoggs, speedo and more have their little marks on gear. Are athletes going to have to compete nude now?
    And what about country flags and colours? Is this not advertising where each athlete is from and the sporting prowess of each nation?
    I mean really. Although I am starting to like the idea of some of the swimmers nude…. maybe this is the start of something good after all…. ☺

  21. avatar

    This is ridiculous. He is not an Olympian he is a Paralympian. He did not compete in an event affiliated with the olympics, he competed in one affiliated with the Paralympics. The IOC did not organise this, the IPC did. The IOC does not have an issue with this, the IPC does. The Paralympic Logo and the IPC logo are not the same. If he had the Paralympic logo tattooed on himself he would not have had a problem, however he foolishly got the Olympic logo. If we want a comparison, if you worked in a McDonalds and you wore a Burger King uniform you would be fired. Encouraging Olympians to wear the rings to the Rio Olympics 2016 to make a stand will achieve nothing. The IOC has no issue with OLYMPIANS wearing the rings to an OLYMPIC event. The IPC would not have an issue with PARALYMPIANS wearing the rings to a PARALYMPIC event. If this was an Olympian who got disqualified for wearing the Paralympic logo at an Olympic event there would be a different response.

    Stop twisting the truth for the sake of an article and understand the difference.

    A better article would stick to the truth and educate people/Paralympic and Olympic athletes on the difference. This one should be retracted and/or corrected.

    • avatar

      Actually Paralympic athletes are not allowed to wear even the Paralympic logo without approval from IPC .
      You know as a former Paralympic athlete it makes me smile when Paralympic athlete does have a Olympic tattoo instead of Paralympic one . Obviously the logo of Paralympics is not that cool as Olympic rings 😀
      Every paralympic swimmer knows rules about wearing logos &tattoos and this was only his fault that he underestimated the consequences . You can easily cover the tattoo with black marker. These rules are not new – they are in place since Beijing Paralympics .

  22. Andrea Geisel

    WTF!! Over his heart to show pride for the Olympics and then disqualified!! What!

  23. avatar
    Tom Alexander

    Victor not the first by a long shot – 1976 – Andy Ritchie, Bill Sawchuck, Graham Smith and many others…

    • avatar

      I was about to post the same thing. Graham was sporting his maple leaf way before 1984. Great catch, Tom.

  24. Carol Anderson

    Symbols are important to organizations, including organized sports. You should have permission before tattooing someone’s symbol to your body. It’s a very sensitive idea to have an individual “represent” you for possibly their whole life (assuming they never have the tattoo removed).

    In this case, it was a non Olympic event.. Why would it benefit them to advertise the Olympics? They may have had concerns that the IOC would sue them.

    • Andrew Ford

      Yea stupid I know but yes this is a thing.

  25. avatar
    Mike Anderson

    This is a terrible article with several factually incorrect statements. The author has not done their research and is terribly confused between the IOC and IPC. I agree with George that this article needs to be retracted.