News Column

London 2012: Olympic Success an Expensive Exercise

July 29, 2012

George Burns, dpa

Olympic expense, london 2012

London (dpa) - Hosting a modern Olympic Games does not come cheap with London 2012 expected to cost the British taxpayer in excess of 15 billion dollars.

With such huge figures in play, it is not surprising that any country hosting an Olympics also expects to enjoy a healthy degree of sporting success at as many of the expensively assembled venues as possible.

Securing a high medal tally does not come cheap, however, as evidenced by the investment figures in pre-Olympic funding programmes such as the one put in place by China ahead of hosting Beijing 2008.

China accumulated an incredible 51 gold medals in Beijing but only after the government ploughed almost 5 billion dollars into a sophisticated system that identifies sporting ability at an early age and provides a rigid and demanding training programme.

Britain also upped its spending on elite Olympic sport programmes in the run-up to 2012, where it has 1,050 athletes competing with the target of ensuring a top four finish in the medals table.

UK Sport - the body responsible for investing public funds in performance development - has invested in the region of 450 million pounds in Olympic sports since Athens 2004.

Brazil is also following a similar path, focusing investment on individual Olympic events in an attempt to lift the country's medal tally at the 2016 Rio Games.

"We need to improve in that area because it could make a big difference," explained Brazil President Dilma Rousseff ahead of the London Games.

Brazil plans to construct 6,000 new multi-purpose sports facilities within the next four years to add to the 4,000 already in place.

David Forrest, Professor of Economics at Salford Business School and head of the Madrid Sportometrics Study Group which produced the most accurate prediction of the Beijing 2008 final medals count, believes the fruits of this investment will be clearly seen in London.

"We're predicting that at London 2012 the Brazilian team will win nearly double the number of medals they achieved in 2008 - up from 15 to 29," he said.

Professor Forrest's research also points to the Olympics remaining overwhelmingly a "rich man's Games" despite the International Olympic Committee's commitment to improving equality of opportunity in Olympic sport.

Olympic medals can effectively be bought by wealthier countries prepared and able to invest in sports infrastructure, governing bodies and athletes.

The United States Olympic Committee invested more than 232 million in 2008 to help American athletes win 110 medals in Beijing while Russia invests nearly 16 dollars per capita in state athletic programmes compared to just 3.76 dollars for Australia.

Of the 204 nations that sent athletes to Beijing, only 86 won medals, and 118 went home empty handed.

The difficulties posed by challenging the likes of China or the US in disciplines they excel in has led many countries to target specific sports in the search for Olympic success.

Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev's support for cycling paid off at London 2012 with Alexandr Vinokurov's victory Saturday in the men's road race while Ireland's targeting of boxing resulted in three Olympic medals in Beijing.

There are high hopes for London too with all five Irish male boxers thought to be in with a chance of a medal while Ireland's best-funded athlete and four-time world champion Katie Taylor is a strong favourite to win gold in the women's 60kg division.

While many countries now target specific sports, others such as Qatar and Bahrain have gone down the road of targeting athletes with lucrative financial packages.

In 2003, Kenyan runner Stephen Cherono switched allegiance to Qatar, changing his name to Saif Saaeed Shaheen, while Saif Saeed Assaad, formerly Bulgarian Angel Popov, won the emirate a bronze medal in weightlifting at the 2000 Olympics.

On the eve of the first London Games in 1908, Bishop Ethelbert Talbot famously said in his sermon at the Olympic service in St Paul's Cathedral that "it's not the winning but the taking part".

This could not be further from the truth at London 2012.

Source: Copyright 2012 dpa Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH

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