Olympic Athletes - Rich in Talent but Poor in Money

  | James Innes

For many competitors at the 2016 Olympics, their only reward, unless they are talented enough to get a medal, will be the satisfaction of having taken part in the greatest show on earth. Whilst tennis players such as Serena Williams and Andy Murray, elite golfers - at least those who have bothered to travel to Brazil - and star basketball players such as the American Dream Team can earn millions from prize money and sponsorship, most competitors in Rio earn nothing and are struggling to make ends meet, relying on hand-outs from family or friends, or modest allowances from sporting bodies.

Only athletes who compete in high profile sports - gymnastics, or athletics, for example - stand a chance of attracting sponsorship revenue, provided they don't get injured. For sports that only get TV exposure once every 4 years, such as Kayaking and Fencing, however, whilst the efforts might be great, the rewards are few. Whilst Olympic Associations might pay travel costs to Rio, that still leaves expenses such as equipment, trainers, gym fees and sports' medicines to be covered, as well as basic living expenses. 

Even winning a medal might not earn you any money. Whilst Singapore has promised US $714,000 to any athlete that wins gold (and silver and bronze medallists will earn US $371,000 and US $165,000 respectively), and the US rewards successful athletes with a more modest US $25,000 for gold (and smaller sums for the lesser medals), some nations, such as the UK, Sweden, Norway and Croatia, give nothing if you win a medal.

Whilst some athletes are able to take part-time jobs, for many their dedication to their sport leaves no time for outside activities and interests. In recent years, athletes have turned to initiatives such as crowd funding to get funds for new equipment and to help cover basic living expenses, whilst individual competitors have turned to novel ways of attracting sponsorship and support, such as the US synchronised swimming team which performed at the Super Bowl Village to solicit donations, the British sprinter who sold himself on eBay for US $53,000, or the Tongan luger who changed his name to that of a German underwear company in return for their sponsorship.

However, most athletes appearing now in Rio can barely make ends meet, and, once the Games are over and the world's media circus has moved on, will go home to a mountain of debt and an uncertain future. They can only look enviously at Michael Phelps who has already earned US $50 million in his career, a figure sure to grow after his recent successes, or the US gymnast star, Simone Biles, who has sponsors queuing up to work with one of the glamour stars of the Games.

They, however, are the exception not the rule. For most, just being in Brazil is the only reward they will ever get for their dedication. 


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