15 September 2012by Vilyen Pidgornyy, Editor of Worldwide News Ukraine
The Olympics have become so much more than a sports tournament in the past decades. Host countries bolster up their image and infrastructure, participating nations show off their athletes, international media outlets compete with one another in primetime broadcasts, and businesses promote their products and services. Furthermore, such tournaments provide a fair chance for athletes and representatives of smaller nations to compete with their counterparts representing huge superpowers. It seems like a win-win situation for everyone.
Meanwhile, 73 out of 204 participating countries have never won an Olympic medal. The top three nations (population wise) that took part in the world tournament and have never won a medal are Bangladesh, Democratic Republic of Congo and Myanmar with population of 158 million, 71 million and 54 million people respectively. Overall, there are more than 425 million people who may say that their country has never won an Olympic medal. They still spend a lot of money for preparation though.
So, is it really worth it for smaller and less prosperous countries to get involved with major sports tournaments? Or, maybe, participation in the Olympics is to become the domain of rich and more populated nations? What is the trigger factor for a country to be successful at major sports tournaments?
Obviously, sport requires substantial investment. Larger and richer countries have more leverage in terms of how much they can spend on sports education, development and promotion, yielding a better chance of nurturing more superior athletes and, potentially, winning more medals. And yet there are nations with, somewhat, moderate resources, capable of winning more medals than their “better endowed” competitors. Does it mean that they are more efficient or they just focus on specific kinds of sports – national – and develop them to perfection?
Sport in many countries is subsidized by their respective governments, and then there are those nations which support their teams through private sponsorship programs, lotteries and individual donations. The amount of money spent by each and every country, one may rightfully say, depends on many factors including population number, per capita earning and expenses, popularization of certain types of sports, etc. These are important factors, but hardly triggers.
Australia, for example, with a population of 22 million people and $40,800 GDP per capita, spent about $300 million to prepare for the London Olympics. The result is 35 medals and the 10th spot. Canada, which managed to bring in 18 medals and occupied the 36th position, has a population of over 34 million people, and $41,100 GDP per capita. It allocated about $212 million for sports in 2012 alone, with the intention to increase this amount to $389.7 million in 2014-2015. The U.S. with population of 313 million and $49,000 GDP per capita became the leader in the total medal count – 104. The U.S. Olympic Committee – the American arm of the IOM - has been reported to have raised over $460 million for its athletes in 2012.
On the other hand there are countries like Ukraine, which occupied the 14th spot in the Olympic gold medal count outranking Canada, New Zealand and Brazil. Ukraine’s population is 44.8 million and the country’s GDP per capita is estimated to be $7,300. The Ukrainian government allocated about $153 million for sports in 2012.
Based on the data, we can assume that GDP per capita is not necessarily an indicator of a country’s potential at the Olympics, but the overall amount of money allocated for sports is likely to be. And it is rightly so, since a country has to build and maintain sports infrastructure, prepare and support athletes, etc.
How they do it is different in each and every case. The U.S. Olympic Committee, for example, is a not-for-profit corporation supported by companies. More than 90 percent of funding comes from selling broadcasting rights, sponsorship and licensing as well as fundraising. Since corporate sponsors are interested in credibility, accountability and impact, other countries rely on a different option – allocating separate funding in the state budget, like Canada and Ukraine.
What if the country doesn’t have enough resources to invest in sports? Can focusing on specific kinds of sports be the answer?
India, being the world’s second most populated country – 1.2 billion people and a GDP per capita of $3,700 – won six medals at the 2012 London Olympics and 26 medals in its entire history. What’s curious is that in field hockey – its national sport – India didn’t succeed. The result in badminton, a sport invented in Pune, India, wasn’t impressive either – one medal. This obviously answers the question of “specialization.”
What about introducing the “individual” approach then?
For example, citizen of Grenada Kirani James, 19, won the Olympic 400m raising his country to the 50th spot. This was the first ever Olympic medal for the country of 110,000 and $14,400 GDP per capita.
It is up to each and every country to decide whether its wants to “specialize” or focus on certain individual athletes in order to have a better chance of winning at the Olympics. The intangible benefit behind either case may be the improved health of the nation, a recognizable brand and the enhanced self-esteem of its citizens.
Moreover, the ultimate objective of the Olympics has been noted as building a peaceful and better world by educating youth through sports. "More than ever, sport is a universal language and plays the role of catalyst in today's society as a means of improving quality of life and well-being," according to IOC President Jacques Rogge. This said, the Olympic games are only the culmination of the international efforts in building healthier nations and world peace. In addition, this is one of the few chances for all participating nations, no matter the size, to openly compete with each other in a peaceful way.