LONDON – The path to the Olympics is not cheap, something a New Zealander named Logan Campbell discovered upon returning home from his taekwondo loss four years ago in Beijing. He faced a mountain of bills from travel, equipment, and training, almost $120,000 worth in American currency, and he couldn't keep asking his parents to pay it.
London was going to cost him another $200,000. He needed money. He needed it fast.
So he opened a brothel.
Not surprisingly, the brothel, and the publicity it stirred in Auckland when he announced his intentions in 2009, did not impress his country's sports federation. The people in charge of protecting the nation's sporting image did not see an athlete talking openly about the selling of flesh to fund his trip to the next Olympics as a reflection of their values. The fact brothels are legal in New Zealand, as long as a list of guidelines is met, didn't much impress the country's sports ministers.
The New Zealand Olympic Committee sent him a letter telling him to stop linking prostitution to funding an Olympics journey or they would sue.
But something remarkable happened. Money came for taekwondo. More money than the country's taekwondo team had ever received. No longer desperate for funds, Campbell sold the brothel in 2011. This spring, New Zealand put him on its London team.
Maybe because of this new peace, Campbell did not seem happy to be asked about his former business as he sat in the lobby of the East London school where he was training on Wednesday.
"I sold the brothel so I don't really want to talk about it now, OK," he said.
Yet as he said this, there also seemed a perception he wanted to eliminate. He senses that people think he was a sleazy pimp selling women on the street corner. This, he said, was not true.
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"It's a legal business in New Zealand," Campbell said. "It's completely different from other countries in the world. There was no – I don't know – no one was forced into the industry, and they're not doing it because they are in poverty because we have a really good welfare system."
He stopped for a moment.
"It's more of like a higher-class thing than you see around the world. I think a lot of people don't understand that. As compared … to places like Thailand [where] I know what it's like in the poorer countries, where people don't have a choice to get into that sort of industry. But in New Zealand it's completely different, so it's fine."
Campbell said his parents didn't object to his running a brothel. Back in 2009, he told several New Zealand news outlets that his mother's worries were calmed after meeting several of the women who worked for her son.
"I've never had anyone in New Zealand be like, 'Why did you do that? That's not right,' or anything like that," he said.
Still, a brothel is a brothel. And this one, according to news reports at the time, had 14 rooms. Campbell was quoted as calling it "an escort agency." A website bearing his name was filled with pictures of Campbell in his taekwondo gear welcoming visitors to donate to his Olympics quest. "Or if you are in Auckland," he said on the site, "show your support by visiting the high-class escort agency I have just opened up."
The site promised "the finest range of intelligent ladies, the most luxurious facilities on the market" and told prospective clients to "fulfill your fantasy, bi-doubles, Greek, fantasy, dress, and much much more." First-time visitors became VIP members, a privilege that earned them "a number of free extras."
As Campbell walked from the school to a waiting bus on Wednesday, he seemed far less enthusiastic than he did back then. He said he never imagined owning a brothel and only got involved when a friend asked him to help operate a "private club" to "just sit there and make sure everything" was fine. His involvement grew when he realized how much he needed to raise.
"I came home after the Olympics, and I had no job and nothing to do," he said. "I needed to make some money if I wanted to go to the next one in London, so bam!"
Less than two years after opening the brothel with a business partner, he sold it, he said.
"I got no regrets, I wouldn't do it again," he said.
In fact, it was probably a good thing, he suggested, given how taekwondo has not been funded well in New Zealand.
"I think it finally put a spotlight on our sport," he said.
He said a month after the initial publicity for the brothel, money started to come in. He told how one agency, with a large budget to spend on sports in the country, suddenly came up with more than $100,000 for taekwondo. At the time, he was in the middle of a break from the sport, but he said he is glad his teammates got extra money for training and coaching.
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"As soon as I was in the media and stuff – we had never had funding, ever, EVER in the history of taekwondo, and all of a sudden it was, like, bam! There was this funding so it was sweet," he said.
The bus was waiting on Wednesday morning, ready to whisk Campbell from practice and away from a chapter in his life he hoped was in the past. He gave a small smile and reached for the bus door. He was ready to leave.
Would he want to open a brothel again, he was asked.
He shook his head.
"No," he said. "It's too much hassle."
Then the door opened, he flopped down on a seat and waited for the drive back to the Olympics he wanted so much he was willing to sell sex to get it.
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