The 2024 Olympics will break the taboo on how much money athletes will earn

The 2024 Olympics will break the taboo on how much money athletes will earn
The 2024 Olympics will break the taboo on how much money athletes will earn

Originally, the Olympic Games created in ancient Greece were intended to be completely selfless. The objective was to offer the people of Athens a very elite sporting competition where questions of money were completely forbidden, including for the main players. They were sponsored and protected, but no one talked about these vulgar things.

Pierre de Coubertin, who relaunched the Olympic Games at the beginning of the 20th century by imposing respect for the ideals of Olympism, had excluded any political, social or financial consideration in the organization of the competitions.

Its objective was to promote sport as a means of pacification and international solidarity, but also to protect social ties in the participating countries. The 1936 Games in Berlin broke with this ideal by providing the Nazis with an opportunity to taunt people around the world. The scandal and anger were global.

The world reacted after the war to make the Olympic Games a formidable counterweight to authoritarian and even genocidal temptations.

Throughout the second half of the 20th century, preparation for the Olympic Games gave rise to an increase in considerable resources to organize them. All the capitals of the world have given in to this temptation and have embarked on the construction of sports facilities which, without the Games, would undoubtedly never have seen the light of day. Certain countries or certain cities took advantage of the event to make a very ostentatious demonstration of their power, at the cost of a debt that would be difficult to bear. But overall, the equipment built for the Games found its use for the benefit of local populations.

That said, what is interesting is that the Paris Games today mark a very notable change in the economic model of the Olympic Games.

1) The first change is that these Games will be financially “lighter”. They will undoubtedly be the first Games which will not have given rise to considerable sporting investments, because France is already equipped with stadiums, halls and more generally places to organize the competitions. The Olympic village in Saint-Denis is a complex mainly made up of housing which will be recycled for the benefit of residents after the Games. It’s all profit.

Furthermore, the Île-de-France region took the opportunity to invest in means of transport which would have been used anyway. The bulk of Olympic spending will be devoted to organization, promotion and security. In total, the bill should reach 10 billion euros, or two to three times less than the investments made by Tokyo, Mexico, Los Angeles, whose debts are not all yet paid off today. In addition, two-thirds of these investments will be covered by sponsors and above all by economic benefits, mainly in the tourism industry, since more than 15 million additional visitors are expected in Paris next summer.

2) The second change is that the international climate will force these Games to move beyond political neutrality. There is no question of reproducing the errors of 1936. The conflicts in Ukraine and Russian aggression in defiance of international law, the war in Palestine between Israel and Hamas, all these events will place the organizers and the French government in a delicate situation. The French president, who is calling for a ceasefire in the theaters of war for at least the duration of the Games, will probably not be heard. It will be necessary to manage the protection of the places, the men and women who participate in the competitions as well as the visitors against acts of terrorism. Finally, we will have to accept the ban on authoritarian countries, notably Russia, from participating in demonstrations as a Russian nation, while not penalizing athletes. But how can we allow a Russian or Iranian athlete to participate in competitions and win medals while preventing them from displaying their nationality? The Olympic Games allow the peaceful cohabitation of different sovereign nations, but do not avoid, at the time of the podiums, the comparison of performances between different sovereignties. Pierre de Coubertin’s ideal has always been difficult to respect.

3) The third change is that athletes’ money is no longer a taboo. There were many utopians who believed, like Pierre de Coubertin, that athletes had to be volunteers for the long term. Coubertin evolved at a time when sporting competition was reserved for wealthy aristocrats. We quickly realized after the war that practicing high-level sport was expensive, between coaches, trainers, doctors, psychologists… But sport in general became a popular activity which benefited thousands of disadvantaged people by serving as a social elevator for the most gifted and successful. High-level sport has become a full-time activity capable of generating a lot of money given the interest it aroused. It was therefore necessary to remunerate this activity well, one way or another. For years, theoretically non-profit sports associations got by with donations, public subsidies and allocated their members compensation or provided them with paid but fictitious jobs. Nobody really talked about it openly, but at the Olympic Games, the medal champions became real market values. Today, this omerta on athletes’ money has been officially broken, including by the international Olympic organization. This is the first time that transparency has been made on the price paid for participation in the Games.

We therefore know that this year, the International Federation will pay $50,000 for each Olympic medal. In addition, each national federation has its own scale according to its own means.

This year, the French Federation will pay 80,000 euros for a gold medal, 40,000 euros for a silver medal and 20,000 euros for a bronze medal. These bonuses are financed from the federations’ own funds, which are financed by their sponsors or thanks to their share of broadcast rights revenue and a share of ticketing. This will not prevent the Olympic champion from selling his image to a few major brands, which will guarantee him a future. The career of an Olympic champion is short. He finds it very difficult to participate in more than two Olympiads. In the meantime, he must find remuneration, exhibitions, commitments in shows (this is true for skating, boxing, tennis, golf, etc.), and some, undoubtedly the most gifted, set up in business. We remember the Winter Olympic champions in 1968, from Jean-Claude Killy to Annie Famose, who won most of the medals. Before, they were just children from Val d’Isère or the Pyrenees, but after these Games where they shone, they all became business men and women who not only embodied the development of skiing, but who invested directly in white gold where, thanks to their name and their ambition, they made a fortune.

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