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Saturday, August 28, 2004

Altius, Citius, Fortius?

Watching some of the backstories of the Chinese athletes, it becomes apparent that they are essentially professionals. While we "pay" our athletes with college scholarships and so forth, I didn't realize that Olympic athletes are often compensated with cash bonuses by their countries for winning individual gold medals, but evidently the practice has been going on for twenty years. This year, the U.S. Olympic committee is paying $25K for gold, $15K for silver and $10K for bronze medals. This is on top of whatever endorsements and other bonuses that athletes can earn for medal wins. Michael Phelps and many other U.S. amateur athletes may do fairly well for themselves, thank you very much.

In other countries, it may be a little more difficult to generate substantial amounts of endorsement dollars, although I am sure that the Chinese divers will be taken care of for the rest of their lives. Why aren't more athletes aren't shopping themselves to the highest bidder? How much would Singapore have to pay to get the U.S. 4x400 relay team to give up U.S. citizenship? Probably a lot. As more athletes are shop their citizenship around might decisions be influenced by the Olympic medal reward?

Here are some of the payouts as reported by Bloomberg and the number of gold and silver medals:
Singapore $300,000 0 golds 0 silvers
Italy $160,000 9 golds 10 silvers
Ukraine $100,000 9 golds 4 silvers
Indonesia $100,000 1 gold 1 silver
Belarus $60,000 2 gold 4 silvers
France $40,000 11 gold 8 silvers
Iraq $25,000 0 gold 0 silvers
U.S. $25,000 34 gold 38 silvers
Switzerland $16,000 1 gold 1 silver
Zimbabwe $10,000 1 gold 1 silver
Albania $10,000 0 gold 0 silver
Denmark $10,000 1 gold 0 silver
Namibia $5,000 0 gold 0 silver
Australia No bonus 17 gold 16 silver
Finland No bonus 0 gold 2 silver
Fiji No bonus 0 gold 0 silver
Great Britain No bonus 9 gold 8 silver

It is understandable that athletes want to be compensated for their efforts, and in countries where endorsements are less valuable or plentiful perhaps national committees might feel incumbent to financially help their athletes. Even with professional soccer, basketball, and tennis (and other sports?) players in the Olympics, the majority of the athletes are portrayed as amateurs - such as swimmers and runners who are in college. This seems to be an illusion, which the IOC seems all too happy to reinforce.

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