Thursday, August 21, 2008

All the gold money can buy!

Olympic fever is running high in Britain. 17 gold medals and counting. 'We're number three', and 'Great to be British', screams the newspaper headlines.

However, this success, if success it is, comes at a price. More precisely £265 million ($492 million dollars) in government subsidies to elite sports since 2004.(1) In total the UK government is to spend £600 million ($ 1.126 billion) on Olympic athletes in the run up to the 2012 Olympic games.(2) As one letter to the editor in today's Guardian aptly sums up: "Central planning, state funding and 15 gold medals so far. Smacks of socialism to me!"

In comparison, the US Olympic Committee (USOC) does not receive continuous government funding.(3) This does not mean that US athletes aren't well funded, the USOC has in fact a $130 million annual budget,(4) just that the US government does not subsidize the pursuit of Olympic medals. If, however, the US government were to grant US Olympic athletes an equal amount of money to that of the UK government, and taking into account the size of the US economy to the UK economy, the US would have to spend $5.6 billion until 2012.(5)

Such a policy would undoubtable ensure a lot more Olympic medals for US athletes and propel the US to the top of the unofficial medals table, but I have agree with this New York Times editorial, when it states:
If we are looking to invest in sports, we would be wiser to spend money on daily gym classes and after-school athletic programs. That would not produce a large crop of Olympians, but it would help combat the growing obesity epidemic among American youngsters and yield health benefits worth more than Olympic gold.

(1) AFP 19.08.2008, 'Olympics: Britain celebrates medals as investment pays off'.

(2) Paul Kelso, 'Minister's warning to elite after Willis gaffe', The Guardian 23.01.2008.

(3) Michael Jay Friedman, 'U.S. Funding of Olympic Athletes a Private and Community Affair' 01.09.2007 on

(4) see New York Times, Editorial: 'Our Idea of Gold', 17.08.2008.

(5) Based on the GDP of the US and UK in 2007, which according to the IMF were $13,843,825 billion and $2,772.570 billion respectivelly. The calculations is therefore $1,126 million * 13,843,825/2,772,570 = $5,622 million.


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