Olympics: What price national pride?

About £4 million a go

In the fascinating Why England Lose: And other curious football phenomena explained by Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski, there’s a chapter about why hosting major sporting events is a good thing. Essentially the numbers a Government uses to convince the people of the economic benefits are just made up guff, but apparently in relatively rich countries like Britain, hosting an event makes happiness in the country go up and it stays high for two or maybe even four years.

And Governments tend to do well when people are happy, so why not slosh a load of money on a big jamboree?

It’s hard to argue we didn’t get at least our two years worth of post-2012 happiness as a nation. And, of course, Glasgow’s Commonwealth Games couldn’t have come at a better time to revive anybody with flagging spirits.

And now, even though events happened on the other side of the planet at times when most of us either were or should have be in bed, the national mood has been lifted by those wearing GB vests.

The medals have just poured in, we finished second ahead of the Chinese for goodness sake!


There has been much debate as to how we’re doing it, particularly in the velodrome where the rest of the world got an absolute shoeing at the hands of Team GB. The Aussies, for one, were none too impressed. Well, my antipodean friends, allow me to let you in on a little forex secret…..£30.2m is a lot, lot more than AUD$34.1m.

In a sport where marginal gains can make a significant difference, 12-million-odd quid extra can sure help you find more of them. It wasn’t just the Australians, the Germans and French also moaned that the Brits are far better in the Olympic velodromes than they are in the intervening four years.

British Cycling’s power couple led Team GB to dominate the track

But when your funding is based on targets set for Olympic success, wouldn’t you prioritise those couple of weeks over everything else in between? I mean you’d be stupid not to right? Surely even our beaten rivals can see that?

Whatever you think about UK Sport’s methodology, you can’t deny that Rio 2016 has been pretty spectacular for them. They took a lot of flak from all corners a couple of years ago, myself included, but they will return home from Brazil basking in the reflected glory of a fist full of medals.

Indeed their difficultly is going to be who are they going to ditch off to further focus down on medal winners, given pretty much everyone matched or bettered their Olympic target. Perhaps they’ll be tempted to jettison the men’s hockey team, but maybe the women’s heroic gold medal might save the men.

It’s certainly not like London when they could easily sack off those bloody expensive, inefficient team sports who could only win one medal anyway.

Let’s face it, the no compromise philosophy is a race to the bottom (or top dependant on your view). The more you professionalise amateur sports, the more you will crush everybody else who doesn’t. The more you target niche or expensive sports, the quicker you will get to the top. The more you focus on one person who can win multiple medals rather than multiple people who can win only one, the more effective you will be. The more you pump tens of millions more into a sport than your rivals, the more you will win. Simple, but bloody effective.

In Sydney we spent £5.4m on cycling, Athens was £8.6m, Beijing £22.1m, London £26m, Rio £30.2m and the rest of the world still apparently can’t work out how we are now dominating? Taekwondo used to get £600k before Beijing, now it gets £8m and we win gold medals. It’s not rocket science, it’s sports science.

When we spent £60–70m on Olympics we were average on a good day, now we spend more than a quarter of a billion pounds we’re bloody brilliant.

Sure it’s financial doping, but we’re relatively rich so what’s wrong with that eh?

Let’s stick it to those poor countries who can’t afford a yacht or don’t know what a foil is! Let’s put the boot into those countries who used the global recession as an excuse to cut back on elite sport funding whilst we upped ours by £10m. #BringOnTheGreat


But let’s not kid ourselves on the legacy stuff. Let’s not waffle on about inspiring a nation. We should have long since realised that we were sold a pup on that one. In the immediate afterglow of London, participation in sport went down and still hasn’t recovered to 2011/12 levels.

“When I was 12 years old I was marched into a large school hall with my classmates and we watched grainy pictures from the 1968 Mexico Olympic Games. Two athletes from our home town were competing. John Sherwood won a bronze medal in the 400m hurdles. His wife Sheila just narrowly missed gold in the long jump. By the time I was back in my classroom, I knew what I wanted to do — and what I wanted to be. Thirty-five years on, I stand before you with those memories still fresh. Still inspired by this great movement.” Lord Coe

Well we watched London 2012 in HD on our sofas, but still weren’t inspired in to any great movement.

This is, in part, a by-product of no compromise. Far easier to win medals in sports nobody (including us) plays than ones people do. Maybe there is a Modern Pentathlon or Fencing club near me, I don’t know, but I kind of doubt it given the number of participants in England is so low as to be suppressed by APS data.

We won 26 medals in Rio (that’s 40% of our total haul) where if you took each of the individual sports and asked everyone in England who played it to come to Wembley Stadium for the day, there’d be empty seats, in many cases it’d be less than half full.

A quarter of our medals came from sports where fewer than 50,000 people in England take part each week.

But what does participation matter anyway? We are already winning the medals in these sports we don’t as a nation play, why do we need to play them en masse? And it’s not really UK Sports remit anyway.

Guardian report of Local Authority cuts hitting diving

Funding for participation by Sport England went down last year, so too did funding for facilities. That, coupled with the huge financial pressures on local authorities and schools in these days of austerity, is it any wonder that fewer of us do sport?

Still at least we have a watered down obesity strategy, it’s always good to keep hydrated when watching sport on TV.

But anyway, what price national pride? Well it cost us roughly £4.01m a pop on our medals in Rio.

Give or take £32k that’s exactly what it cost in London — and to think we were kidded into thinking that was down to good old fashioned home field advantage!

If you wanted to weight them, I’d say about £5.7m for a gold, £3.8m for a silver and £1.9m for a bronze, that’s also more or less the same home or away.

Admittedly they were a little more expensive in the Beijing days, about £5m a medal, but then that was our first proper foray into financial doping so it’s bound to cost a bit more.

Plus three cycles in we’re not wasting money on (team) sports it’s hard to win at and there are more medals about these days, including in sports we can win them in like Golf and Rugby 7s.

Admittedly it helps that the Chinese have underperformed and the Russians were hampered by state sponsored doping of illegal methods, but we’d have been there or thereabouts regardless.


We may have fat kids, obese adults, insufficient and poor grassroots infrastructure. We may underfund the sports we play and overfund ones we don’t. We may even be too posh, too privileged, and too white, but we’re still going to kick your ass again in Tokyo world. So get your excuses in now!

En Garde.

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