Editorial Policy

For Brits, It’s No Visa, No Olympic Games

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By Eva Norlyk Smith, Ph.D.
July 8, 2010

Britons looking to attend the 2012 Olympic Games in London could have their own hurdle to leap over: due to a deal struck between credit card giant Visa and the Olympic Games, Brits who want tickets for the Olympics can only purchase them with a Visa credit card, debit, or prepaid card.

The Visa-card-only policy applies not just to the Olympic and Paralympic games, but to shops and cash machines located anywhere on the games site. And while overseas visitors to the Olympic games can buy tickets at home with other payment methods, they too will have to use a Visa credit card, debit card, or prepaid card if buying souvenirs, getting food at concession stands, or getting cash at ATMs.

While those involved claim that the contract is standard and actually necessary to help sponsor the games, The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) has nonetheless begun examining the matter. According to a recent statement, “The OFT and the European Commission are aware of these issues and are currently in discussion about what action, if any, should be taken.”

Consumer advocates have expressed outrage at the discrimination, which will force MasterCard-and American Express-wielding sports fans to acquire a Visa credit card or prepaid card in order to see the games. A variety of prepaid Visa cards can be purchased over the internet, some allowing cardholders to load as much as $10,000 onto their card, plenty for Olympic Game tickets, concession stand visits, and souvenirs for everyone back home as well.

As the world’s leading credit card giants, Visa and MasterCard are locked in a fierce competitive battle. Currently, Visa dominates the UK debit card market, but falls behind when it comes to credit card use. The UK’s 53 million Visa debit card holders easily outnumbers the 17.5 million Mastercard users in the country, however, in the credit card arena, the numbers reverse with MasterCard counting a full 36 million credit card customers versus Visa’s 22 million.

Time will tell whether Visa’s attempt to get an edge in the credit card playing field through its deal with the Olympic Games will be effective or not. However, one thing is for sure: unless the OFT steps in and nixes the Visa contract with the Games, American Express and Mastercard holders may have to throw in the towel and accept that some things are too priceless to pass up, and for the rest there is MasterCard.