News

Nations Struggle to Fund Olympic Dreams

Multimedia

Audio

More than 10,000 athletes from around the world will compete in the upcoming Summer Olympic Games in Beijing.  All of them have the same dream -- to win a gold medal.  But not all dreams are equal. Athletes from rich nations will most likely win more medals than those from poor countries. How a country funds its Olympic program not only is an indication of likely success, but also a reflection of a nation's social and political values. 

In many countries, the military has traditionally supported Olympic programs.  In Pakistan, where the armed forces play a prominent role in society, the national champion in rifle marksmanship, Sadiq Umeri, serves in Pakistan's army. 

"I feel very proud and it's a great pleasure to be selected for the Olympics.  And getting an award or medal is not really my goal.  That's mainly about luck.  But I will try to do my best.  And I'm not going to disappoint my country," says Umeri.

Kenya's Olympic program is entirely government-funded.  The Kenyan Athletic Association says it has a 1.5 million dollar Olympic budget and intends to send 80 athletes to the Games. One of its best hopes for an Olympic medal is Robert Cheruiyot, a four-time winner of the Boston Marathon. "When I run, I can hear in my mind the national anthem of Kenya -- when I am running.  When I training, sometimes, I can hear the national anthem of Kenya," he says. But while Cheruiyot is proud to represent his country, he says he has not yet received any government funds. 

Politics, Business and Sports Collide

David Wallechinsky is the author of several books about the Olympics. He says some government-sponsored Olympic programs are poorly managed. "I think that the advantage of government sponsorship is that you're more likely to support athletes in smaller sports or less high profile sports.  The problem is like anything else, you put the government in charge, there is a certain amount of corruption in some of these countries.  A lot of the officials take most of the money and it doesn't really get to the athletes.  Not all countries are like that, but it is quite common," says Wallechinsky.  "So there is a downside or upside to both systems." 

At the height of the Cold War, athletes from the Soviet Union were dependent on government money. Today, Russia is more market-oriented.  Public funding is supplemented with private sponsorship. 

But Russian Olympic cyclist Sergei Ruban says sponsors are only interested in sports that are popular on television.  He says companies want the publicity that comes from being associated with popular athletes. "Everybody today is interested in a product, a spectacle that makes for good TV," says Ruban.  "Unfortunately, many sports don't fit in.  They aren't developed or structured to create an interesting TV product. Accordingly, sports that do not get on TV have no sponsors." 

The American Challenge

The United States is one of only three countries where Olympic athletes receive no government funding.  Instead, the U.S. Olympic Committee relies exclusively on income from the sale of television broadcast rights and from corporate sponsors. 

Steve Roush, Chief of Sport Performance with the U.S. Olympic Committee. "My experience has been that in the dialogue I've had with other national Olympic Committee staff members is that there is far less pressure when it comes to who's getting the tickets, who's getting the accreditations at the Olympics.  Many times, decisions they have to make are political decisions on taking care of all the ministers who have decided they want to come to the Olympics.  For us, we keep it clean. We look at performance enhancing support personnel such as coaches, sports scientists.  So it allows us to stay out of the political fray."

Roush says that while the system is not political, the U.S. Olympic program must compete with professional sports teams for sponsors. "We are in a tough economic situation now.  Therefore, there are fewer corporate dollars to be had for sponsorship.  And we are in a competitive marketplace with the National Football League, Major League Baseball, the NHL [i.e., the National Hockey League] and NASCAR [i.e., the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing]," says Roach.  "And so, they are looking at where they get the most out of their investment.  And that's a challenge.  On an economic downturn, it isn't as abundant."

Roush says, like in Russia, corporate sponsors in the United States favor popular sports.  Many Olympic gold medal winners from the U.S. later make millions of dollars by advertising products. 

For less popular sports like distance running, there are creative private initiatives to help support the athletes. Keith Hanson and his brother own shoe stores in the U.S. Midwestern city of Detroit.  They provide distance runners with free housing, health insurance, coaching, running shoes and gear as well as part-time jobs in their stores. "One nice thing about our country is that we do have private individuals who can step up and take over these responsibilities that many think the governing body [i.e., the United States Olympic Committee] should do," says Hanson.

While every Olympic program in the world would like more money, funding is limited and tied to a nation's economic status and political system.

This story was first broadcast on the English news program, VOA News Now. For other Focus reports click here.

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Texas Town Residents Told to 'Just Leave' Ahead of Flood Threati
X
Greg Flakus
May 29, 2015 11:24 PM
Water from heavy rain in eastern and central Texas is now swelling rivers that flow into the Gulf of Mexico, threatening towns along their banks. VOA’s Greg Flakus visited the town of Wharton, southwest of Houston, where the Colorado River is close to cresting.
Video

Video Texas Town Residents Told to 'Just Leave' Ahead of Flood Threat

Water from heavy rain in eastern and central Texas is now swelling rivers that flow into the Gulf of Mexico, threatening towns along their banks. VOA’s Greg Flakus visited the town of Wharton, southwest of Houston, where the Colorado River is close to cresting.
Video

Video New York's One World Trade Center Observatory Opens to Public

From New Jersey to Long Island, from Northern suburbs to the Atlantic Ocean, with all of New York City in-between.  That view became available to the public Friday as the One World Trade Center Observatory opened in New York -- atop the replacement for the buildings destroyed in the September 11, 2001, attacks.  VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports.
Video

Video Seoul Sponsors Korean Unification Fair

With inter-Korean relations deteriorating over the North’s nuclear program, past military provocations and human rights abuses, many Koreans still hold out hope for eventual peaceful re-unification. VOA’s Brian Padden visited a “unification fair” held this week in Seoul, where border communities promoted the benefits of increased cooperation.
Video

Video Purple Door Coffeeshop: Changing Lives One Cup at a Time

For a quarter of his life, Kevin Persons lived on the street. Today, he is working behind the counter of an espresso bar, serving coffee and working to transition off the streets and into a home. Paul Vargas reports for VOA.
Video

Video Modular Robot Getting Closer to Reality

A robot being developed at Carnegie Mellon University has evolved into a multi-legged modular mechanical snake, able to move over rugged surfaces and explore the surroundings. Scientists say such machines could someday help in search and rescue operations. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Shanghai Hosts Big Consumer Electronics Show

Electronic gadgets are a huge success in China, judging by the first Asian Consumer Electronics Show, held this week in Shanghai. Over the course of two days, more than 20,000 visitors watched, tested and played with useful and some less-useful electronic devices exhibited by about 200 manufacturers. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Forced to Return Home, Afghan Refugees Face Increased Hardship

Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Britain Makes Controversial Move to Crack Down on Extremism

Britain is moving to tighten controls on extremist rhetoric, even when it does not incite violence or hatred -- a move that some are concerned might unduly restrict basic freedoms. It is an issue many countries are grappling with as extremist groups gain power in the Middle East, fueled in part by donations and fighters from the West. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Al-Shabab Recruitment Drive Still on In Kenya

The al-Shabab militants that have long battled for control of Somalia also have recruited thousands of young people in Kenya, leaving many families disconsolate. Mohammed Yusuf recently visited the Kenyan town of Isiolo, and met with relatives of those recruited, as well as a many who have helped with the recruiting.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.

VOA Blogs