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Francesca Rudkin: Let's pay all Olympic gold medallists

Francesca Rudkin,
Publish Date
Sun, 14 Apr 2024, 10:03am

Francesca Rudkin: Let's pay all Olympic gold medallists

Francesca Rudkin,
Publish Date
Sun, 14 Apr 2024, 10:03am

So World Athletics made an announcement this week that will no doubt send ripples throughout other global sporting organisations - and give ammunition to those who claim the Olympics aren’t worth the bother anymore - by announcing they would pay track and field gold medallists at the Paris Olympics $50,000 (USD).

Understandably, the first question asked was if this move violated the Olympic spirit? This is, after all, the first time in the 128 years of the modern Olympics that athletes will receive prize money for topping the podium.

Now, once upon a time when sport was truly amateur, I may have agreed prize money was not in the Olympic spirit. But in 2024, when many professional sports people perform at the Olympics - think golf, tennis and basketball - I’m more inclined to say, why not? Why shouldn’t the athletes take a share of the revenue the International Olympic Committee (IOC) distributes to World Athletics?

Track and field is a massive drawcard. Surely those who provide the entertainment should benefit from it?

They‘re not being paid to train for four years, so nothing changes in the lead up to the Olympics. While it’s no doubt nice to get, I doubt it will be the overwhelming motivation for athletes. I’m making an assumption here - I’m no Olympian - but the work and sacrifice it takes to compete against the best at the Olympics is likely enough in itself for most.

If you asked New Zealand track and field athletes if they do it for money I’m guessing the answer would be no. If they were about the money they’d do better to get other jobs; one’s with a salary.

The IOC was blindsided by the announcement and quick to issue a statement reminding us it’s up to each sport’s governing body to decide how to spend their share of Olympic revenue. Apparently, up to 90 percent of all the IOC’s income is redistributed to help athletes and the development of sport. If World Athletics believe they can support their sport and rewards gold medallists, good on them.

Many gold medallists are already renumerated for their performances – by either their country, their Olympic and Paralympic Committees, or sponsorships. The US Olympic Committee paid gold, silver and bronze medallists between $37,500 (USD) and $15,000 (USD) at the last games. Some countries offer more. Hong Kong offered roughly $638,000 (USD). Here in NZ, High Performance NZ hands out $60,000 to gold medallists, which is pretty good, and you may also get to help flog some lamb. Some countries offer nothing.

So why not share the profits with those who reach the top, as long as the sport in general is also being supported?

While there is a list of criticisms about the Olympics, such as how they manage drug cheats, which sports are added or removed, and whether triathletes should have to swim in dodgy waters - I just can’t wait for the games to begin on the 26th July.

It’s almost impossible not to get drawn into the drama that will unfold over the roughly 16 Olympic days. We’ll get to share the highest of highs and the lowest of lows, heart-warming underdog stories and heart-breaking missed opportunities.

It will give us a wonderful distraction in the heart of winter.


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