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Inside Story
The cost of Olympic gold
How can poor nations compete when Olympic glory seems bound to the amount richer nations devote to sports?
Last Modified: 08 Aug 2012 12:41

An Olympic gold medal is priceless, but it comes at a cost for the host country, the athletes and other nations. Does that mean that those with little money have to pay for a chance at sporting glory?

According to one Australian sports doctor, the cost is as much as $40m for each gold medal his country has won in the last 20 years. So what happens if you do not have that kind of money?

"Developing countries generally have less in the way of existing infrastructure that allows them to host all of these big athletics events as well to host the large crowds to come .... To win a bid to host the Olympic Games nowadays is extremely expensive because the IOC has a huge number of cities all competing against one another and they can choose among those the one that is going to put on the most spectacular and the most lavish games."

- Victor Matheson, an events economist

Can sport at the top level be fair when the difference between rich countries and poor countries is so massive?

Money invested by the top Olympic countries can pay dividends. Before hosting the games in 2008, China launched Project 119 and invested millions in swimming, gymnastics and weightlifting. It topped the table then and does so now - London's gold medals have cost roughly $1.6m each.

Australia blames a slash in funding for their poor medal haul at London 2012 - in the first week of the games they won only one gold medal. That single medal cost the country $15m.

Individually, away from headline sports, personal funding poses a hurdle. It can cost thousands of dollars for parents to support their children's Olympic dream.

So in Africa it is no surprise that it is not in expensive, glamour pursuits that their athletes succeed. A level playing field it certainly is not.

The cost of the Olympic Games is always a sensitive issue and in London, it will be almost three times as much as initial estimates. The cost of the 30th Olympiad shot up from $4.5bn to nearly $15bn, but some estimates say it could be even higher.

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British leaders are eager to suggest that the games generate significant income as well as a "legacy" value, but critics say there is little evidence to support that claim.

The reality is probably somewhere in between. A report by Lloyds Banking Group says the Olympic Games in London will give the British economy a boost of $25.5bn by 2017. But the UK is likely to see a negative economic impact in the short-term because of the amount of money spent upfront for infrastructure and security.

Inside Story, with presenter David Foster, asks: Can anybody really say how much Olympic gold costs?

We discuss this with guests: Wolfgang Maennig, a gold medalist in rowing in the 1988 Olympics, and Victor Matheson, an economist specialising in the economic impact of large events.

"I think the Los Angeles Games were a turning point in Olympic marketing history. The Americans had been the first to be able to organise the Olympic Games on a more-or-less private basis and it heavily influenced what happened afterwards."

Wolfgang Maennig, an Olympic gold medalist


 

THE OLYMPICS IN NUMBERS:

  • The London 2012 Olympics was initially estimated to cost $4.5bn
  • But the cost of London 2012 is now triple that estimate at nearly $15bn
  • China invested around $43bn in the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games
  • London Olympics chief Sebastian Coe says the games generate a "legacy"
  • Coe said 75 per cent of the Olympic park spending will provide a legacy for east London
  • The Olympic village will be converted into housing after the games
  • An estimated 5,000 new homes will be available in London after the games
  • Security for the Olympic venues cost UK taxpayers $777m
  • 10,500 athletes are participating in the games from 205 countries
  • Two million people are expected to visit London during the games
  • London has hosted the Olympic Games twice before - in 1908 and 1948

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Source:
Al Jazeera
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