Money, Medals and Cricket…

“India won more medals at the London [2012] Games than ever before. A total of six: two silvers, four bronze and no gold. This was a great achievement for all the athletes involved, better than the pre-Games target of five, and evidence India’s sporting record is improving.” (Stancati, 2012).

Hard to believe I know. Furthermore, if you consider India’s population and economic size in context of the medals won, India ranks just about dead last. What gives? [Sorry folks, I thought my last post was the last on the 2012 London Games – but this story was too good to pass up]. I mean really, six medals with a country population of 1,241,491,960? These numbers are telling, insightful and amusing all at once  – to sports fans and not. There are some reasonable answers to this dismal performance [dismal from some viewpoints] that I’ll share in this post.

Why did India do so poorly? Though there are several contributing factors, two are most significant – cricket and money. Cricket is the national sport to India as hockey is to Canada. Kids from all levels within the social economic structure of India’s caste society play – in the streets, at school, after school. A sports reporter Mr, Shekar of India admits it openly “… we are obsessed with, worship and shamelessly pay obeisance to that one sport, cricket.” (Duhme, 2012).

Fair enough, the kids are busy playing cricket, but what else is missing? Money. There appears to be a direct correlation between the amount of dollars invested by a country in the Olympic Games and its athletes and the numbers of medals won. In other words the medals come with a price. Unbeknownst to many, including myself, most athletes that win medals are paid somewhat handsomely by their respective country (some more than others). The United States’ medal bonuses are $25,000 for gold, $15,000 for silver and $10,000 for bronze (Smith, 2012). In total, because the US did so well, American medalists received a total of $5.1 million collectively. This amount is just the payouts; this does not take into account the training, marketing, Olympic bids for the games, etc.

Dr. Daniels, author another article on this same topic, is not a big fan of sports yet his insights about India’s results offer a perspective worth considering, which is about the value of a country’s sports participation or lack thereof. Here is what he has to say…

It is not that India tried and failed. It did not try, and therein lies its peculiar wisdom and glory. Almost alone of the nations of the world, it more or less ignored the Games. But it is India, whose government does nothing to encourage (or deter) its athletes, that is right, not the rest of the world (Daniels, 2012)

It is quite fascinating the values that are instilled in a nation by the decisions of its government. Here is a perfect example.  The United States values sports tremendously, the US is good at it. They won many medals. So did China, they are also very good at producing medal winners, not as well as the US, though who knows what the next Olympics will bring?

Now, what about India? What are they spending their money on? Two weeks ago India celebrated its 65th anniversary of its independence from British Rule. To honor the event, officials announced that India would send a space probe to Mars. “This is something quite beyond the technical powers or prowess of its former colonial masters [England]—though they, of course, did far better at the Olympics” (Daniels, 2012). I agree, but it sure is entertaining to watch all those athletes win those medals. Oh right, someone makes money off of ‘the entertainment’ factor too.

London Unpaid Olympics’ unpaid Athletes fight for Rich Medal Bonuses, (July 31), Chris Smith. Forbes.

The Odds of Winning an Olympic Gold

What % of Olympic Athletes actually win Gold Medals?

A gold medal with the olympic rings insideI always have mixed feelings when watching the Olympics. Though I love the excitement of the races, love watching the reactions of athletes and teams when they win – I feel for those that don’t win. I feel even more for the athletes that fall, trip, crash or lose due to a faulty clock as did South Korea’s A Lam Shin in a fencing event where she lost the Gold Medal due to a timing error [an additional second granted to German competitor which allowed her to score more points, leading to a win for the Gold].

The Answer is….
To answer the above question – it is less than 3% of athletes competing that will actually win an Olympic Gold. Of the 10,500 athletes that compete, 302 will win Gold. Not winning, for some athletes can lead to a feeling of loss, depression and/or shame that can continue long after the event. In some countries losing means ‘losing face’ which has life long implications, as is the case for China’s ‘disgraced’ badminton team member Yu Yang who was disqualified [due to losing ‘on purpose’ to place in a more competitive ranking, yet still was not breaking any rules] and says she will never play the sport again. Jordan Metzl, a nationally recognized Sports Medicine Physician says, “Losing is often overlooked. Winning is celebrated but the pain of loss is significant” (Kesterton, 2012).

From the average spectator viewpoint like myself, whether I’m watching the events on television, or keeping up with wins through Twitter or online, the wins are celebrated, athletes glorified, and so they should be. These athletes have worked hours and years for a place on the podium. Yet what about the athletes that don’t make the podium, who trained just as many hours and years as those that did win? Most of these athletes have great attitudes, are positive, feel satisfied with their performance, feel they have won – yet I can’t stop thinking of the ones like A Lam Shin (below).

Making it to the Olympics is an outstanding accomplishment, yet the pressure these athletes face, even for those winning a Gold medal is something the average spectator cannot imagine. All athletes present at the games are winners in their own right – my hope is that they are made to feel the same way.

Few Win Gold, Globe Life, Kesterton, M., The Globe and Mail, August 3, 2012
Korean fencer escorted out after staging Olympic sit-in in protest of judging, Reuters, July 31, 2012