Visa Inc. is getting heat from one of the United Kingdom’s largest consumer-advocacy organizations, which claims the card network’s exclusive ticket-sales deal for the 2012 Olympic Games in London discriminates against non-Visa cardholders.

Visa’s long-running Olympics-sponsorship role provides Visa exclusive rights to manage the entire payment-system infrastructure and network throughout all Olympic Games venues. That includes selling local tickets and merchandise and operating all ATMs at the venue. Visa has been an Olympics sponsor since 1986.

But Which?, a UK-based, 700,000-member nonprofit organization, says Visa’s deal is unfair to cardholders of competing payment card brands. The group bills itself as Europe’s largest consumer group.

“We think it’s outrageous that some UK sports fans will be discriminated against in this way,” Peter Vicary-Smith, Which? chief executive, said in a recent statement. “We want the London 2012 Committee to take steps to ensure there’s a level playing field and that UK consumers have equal access to the Games, whether or not they are Visa cardholders. If it doesn’t, we’ll call on the government to step in.”

A spokesperson for the organization says it is weighing its options before making further moves. “So far we have simply put out our statement,” she says.

Olympic Games attendees will be able to pay for tickets and merchandise using Visa debit cards as well as cash and checks, Visa says. Financial institutions issue 91 million Visa cards in the UK, of which more than 70% are debit cards, according to Visa.

William Chipps, senior editor of the Chicago-based IEG LLC, an international sponsorship consulting firm, tells PaymentsSource he doubts Visa will be forced to change its ticket-selling arrangements for the London Games.

“Exclusivity is a primary driver of most sponsorships, and this is not a new policy for Visa at Olympics venues,” Chipps says. “We didn’t hear of any consumer backlash from this during previous Olympics. ... I would be surprised if the UK consumer organization gains traction with its complaints.”

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