A former schoolmate of Peter Snell has written to prime minister Jacinda Ardern expressing outrage that the country will lose the middle-distance legend's 1960 Olympic blazer.

Bill Rayner, president of North Shore Grey Power, said it was "an absolutely disgraceful situation" that the blazer was set to be auctioned and would likely end up overseas.

"Peter is arguably our most noted international athlete and an icon to generations and it is just inconceivable that Te Papa isn't acquiring the blazer," Rayner wrote, "particularly as Peter donated his gold medals, including the 1960 Rome 800 metres, to Te Papa in 2017."

In response, Te Papa spokeswoman Ellie Campbell said: "Te Papa doesn't comment on auctions."


Yesterday the Herald reported that the blazer was destined to settle in Texas, much like Snell himself, who passed away last year aged 80.

In his letter to Ardern and Minister of internal Affairs Tracey Martin, Rayner noted that the arts, culture and heritage ministry should have a fund to step in and secure iconic national toanga, particularly when working with the short time frame of auction deadlines.

"[The] lack of acquisition budget prevents our major museums getting their act together in time to prevent sale to private collectors or, worse, overseas," Rayner wrote.

Snell pulled off a shock victory in the 800m in Rome. Four years later he would win the 800-1500m double in Tokyo.

Webb's, who is running the auction on Sunday, said they had not been able to generate any interest in the item from institutions in New Zealand, despite offering to work with them on price. Meanwhile, the Invaluable auction site, which Webb's use to market their lots to an international audience, has had more than 350 imprints on the blazer, 140 of them coming from a sports memorabilia collector from Texas.

"We know there are going to be people bidding but we just can't get people here interested," said Ben Erren, decorative arts specialist for Webb's.

"It will be bought by a collector, catalogued and put in some temperature-controlled storeroom somewhere in the US."

Peter Snell winning the the Olympic 1500 m final in Tokyo. Photo / NZ Herald
Peter Snell winning the the Olympic 1500 m final in Tokyo. Photo / NZ Herald

NZOC spokeswoman Ashley Abbott said they were keeping an eye on the sale and hoped a local buyer would step up for "the nation".


"It would be an absolute treasure for the New Zealand Olympic Committee, especially as this year we return to Tokyo where Sir Peter won two medals. We would be delighted if a proud New Zealander could secure it on behalf of the nation."

Erren believes the inaction on the blazer front can be traced back to controversy surrounding a singlet Snell was said to have worn at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.

Four years ago, Te Papa announced they had paid $140,000 for the singlet from Cordy's auction house. It was soon established as a fake after testing showed the type of cotton used in the singlet hadn't even been invented in 1964.

Erren said the big institutions like Te Papa and Auckland War Memorial Museum were either spooked or waiting for the real singlet to appear.

"The line of provenance on the blazer is unquestionable and its authenticity is recognised by the New Zealand Olympic committee itself.

"I suspect they're holding out waiting for a singlet that is unlikely to ever eventuate. It has either been lost for good or destroyed," Erren said.


Snell's blazer, which was once described by the NZOC as "an iconic piece of sporting memorabilia", has an interesting history.

In the mid-70s Snell and his first wife Sally had separated and the three-time gold medallist moved to the USA. Sally placed an ad in the paper to sell the furniture from their Mt Albert home.

A buyer turned up and noticed a collection of Snell's uniforms. He paid several hundred dollars cash for the blazer and walked away with it. Former Auckland mayor and Empire Games athlete Colin Kay learned of its existence and negotiated with the owner to have it displayed publically under the care of the NZOC.

It was for a time at NZOC House and was also on display at Auckland International Airport.

The vendor now wants to sell and the piece is expected to attract bids between $30,000 and $50,000.

Erren said Webb's were prepared to negotiate with the country's museums as the reserve is lower than those estimates, but it will soon be too late.


Realistically, the only local institutions with the financial might to buy it would be the aforementioned museums.

Another option could be a wealthy alumni of Mt Albert Grammar, where Snell finished his secondary education, who could donate it to be displayed in the main building.