Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Olympic Gold is proportional to GDP

With thanks to Matt in the Telegraph for his visual depiction of what His Grace tweeted last week, it is interesting to read how unequal these Olympic Games are:
...there are some sports that are in effect closed to all but the most wealthy nations.

"We have identified four sports where there is virtually no chance that anyone from a poor country can win a medal - equestrian, sailing, cycling and swimming," says Prof Forrest.

He points to a study suggesting there is one swimming pool for every six million people in Ethiopia.

Wrestling, judo, weightlifting and gymnastics, he says, tend to be the best sports for developing nations.

For the majority of other disciplines, money is key.

According to Prof Szymanski, 15% of all Olympic medals ever awarded have been won by the US, with European countries accounting for 60%.

"These are two very rich and relatively highly populated regions. The combination of these two is probably what goes to producing Olympic medals over the long term," he says.
Of course, 'twas ever thus, and the poor will always be with us. But wouldn't it be a wonderful sporting legacy to 'inspire a generation' if the IOC started a fund dedicated to the building of swimming pools in Ethiopia, buying uniforms for Benin's judo champs, or bows for Bhutan's archers? Or would that be deemed a distortion of the market through 'state subsidy'? There is something of a dilemma here, for what nation should spend money on horse-Twitter dressage while its children are too hungry to climb into the saddle? And yet what is the real meaning of the 'No1 in the World' Olympic gold standard when all nations cannot compete equally?


Blogger E.xtra S.ensory Blofeld + Tiddles said...

Well stated Your Grace.

The legacy of anything like the Olympic games should be is that it raises the interest of underdeveloped nations to know the joy of sport(perhaps our greatest gift to the world??)and to understand what achievement is and how it spurs others on, whilst keeping the world competitive.

What an indictment all that nonsense about 'we are all winners' that has originated from Labour and has infested our education system..oh that it hadn't been propagated by them so that competing/winning is seen as a dirty word, whereas our life after school shows what the real world is really all about...Tell that to a young person chasing a job that has 250 candidates after it also.

Ernst was chuckling this morning after heard the greatest tribute to our quirky nature as a nation when David Brailsford (director of GB Cycling) was asked by the french papers (green eye?) as to the secret of our cycling success..he stated we had noticed that all cycling wheels made were not completely round so we had refined and manufactured perfect circular wheels..Our 'secret' made the headlines in the papers in France.

Convinced the world does NOT get our British sense of fun and humour!!!!

E S Blofeld

7 August 2012 at 10:11  
Blogger John Knox's lovechild said...

This is getting boring now.

Guess what, China gets lots of medals when the games are in China, Britain does well in Britain;

and who do we think will do well in Brazil?

7 August 2012 at 10:15  
Blogger Belsay Bugle said...

Can we please just ignore the Olympics.
There must be something more interesting and important going on!

7 August 2012 at 10:49  
Blogger Sam Vega said...

True. All those subsidies to the Scots produced the Great British Andy Murray.

7 August 2012 at 11:35  
Blogger The Way of Dodo the Dude said...

The Olympic ideal is doing the best with what you've got - physical and material.

Of course, another solution would be for all the nations to stop spending millions on sport to boost international prestige and nationalpride, and invest the money in more worth while causes (whatever these might be). Athletes would then have to rely on themselves, their dedication and initiative as in the "good old days".

Just a thought.

7 August 2012 at 11:37  
Blogger Phil said...

The types of sports included in the Olympics are skewed in favour of Western nations. For example, fencing has its roots in European culture, and I imagine it is so alien to people of Malaysia, Egypt, and Pakistan that none of them have it in their blood enough to want to devote their lives to it, even if they had the facilities and coaching available. Also, the sport of rowing with its Henly regatta image. So how about some new sports in the Olympics, such as camel-racing, dressage with elephants, underwater swimming without breathing apparatus, or specially for Muslim nations: 4 x 100m relay for husband & wife teams only.

7 August 2012 at 11:56  
Blogger AnonymousInBelfast said...

I'm not sure though, that I want to hand the IOC more power, for one can be sure that with this funding would come extractions of promises to uphold "the Olympian way".

I have a friend working in Haiti at the moment, and there were a couple of athletes who got in (on a Wilcard), but who have been central in the Haitain media as heroes, just as ours have been here.

The Olympics can work to inspire, but I'd aver - it works where there is already patriotism, where there is already love for one's country, and not the compelled kind.

7 August 2012 at 13:07  
Blogger carl jacobs said...

A couple of random thoughts:

1. The Olympics must make money, and money is driven by audience interest in major TV markets. People aren't tuning in to watch small countries compete for medals. They are watching to see their own nation win medals. The IOC therefore has a financial interest in the bigger nations succeeding. When the US and Europe do well, then the Olympics will do well financially.

2. If you want to improve the chance of an Ethiopian to win in swimming, then don't build a swimming pool in Ethiopia. Encourage economic development so that the Ethiopians can build their own pools. Olympic sport is an economic luxury item. To have a broad team of well-trained athletes, you must have sufficient resources to allow the athletes to learn to perform what is essentially an economically non-productive task.

3. The IOC is a corrupt bribe-seeking organization. Why should anyone want to give the IOC control of more money? I suspect major use of such a fund would be to build dachas for important members of the IOC, and staff them with prostitutes.


7 August 2012 at 14:00  
Blogger non mouse said...

Very thought-provoking, Your Grace - all this deification and reification!

We do both things when we overdo competition and achievement: by idolising the winners and by monetising sporting ideals. Communicants are making great points about both, today!

I also have wondered how much has been spent on GB's achievement, in addition to the cost of the event itself. In one specific case, I can't help thinking that although one tennis winner is charming, the gilt somehow tarnishes a little in light of his connection to gold watches, which he wears during interviews. And the other ... well, somehow the previously simple lad can afford one of the greatest players in the world as his coach. So what chance do less endowed nations have of competing successfully?

Today I heard an American interviewing Indians and asking: "Does it bother you that India does not do better in the Olympics?" One responder rambled on about poverty and being a small country in comparison to China.. (India? Small?).

My initial reaction was "Why should it bother them?" Why should everyone want to compete with that intensity? What is so great about a winner's killer instinct? What is so noble about the idea that drives individual to win "whatever it takes"? What about when they gang up as teams to do the same thing? People take those principles and apply them in the larger world, and the results are ...

Our 'outdated' idea of amateur sports mitigated the ruthlessness to some extent. Maybe we should consider restoring it.

Meanwhile, there seem to be quite a few people out here who dread the prospect of the Closing Ceremony....


7 August 2012 at 14:23  
Blogger non mouse said...

Oh. And Your Grace. That business about showers and gold. It'll probably come as no surprise that I don't know what the negative implications are either (and I don't intend to find out).

But didn't Shakespeare purposely do a lot of that sort of thing? Wasn't it Partridge who analyzed that out?

My own take is that Shakespeare at least left us the option of interpreting him cleanly; which is more than the vile Jacobeans did later.

Ah well. The more things change... (especially when euros are in charge).

7 August 2012 at 14:27  
Blogger Avi Barzel said...

Commendable thoughts, Your Grace, but there is another way: How about introducing new competitions in sports played in poor countries or better, utilizing existing the native transferable skills found there?

For example, Ethiopia would compete in grain bag grabbing and tackling their way in a 20 metre dash through grasping crowds; Albania would do well in kidnapping competitions; Belarus would give a good challenge in vodka-tossing, Gaza in rocketry and even well-of countries can join. The US would beat the world in drive-by target shooting and our Canadian "squeegee kids" could smudge up more windows during a stop at red light than anyone else.

But seriously, Your Grace, you know that money for sports in poor countries would disappear into the pockets of the corrupt leaders there. How about establishing a practice of playing the games in poor countries. This would be done by assembling a fund to be used in building the infrastructure ...directly, by the donor nations with hired locals... selected by a lottery. This would create jobs, build hotels, restaurants and parks, improve the international airport, create public transport with roads and highways and see hundreds of sports facilities that can be used in tourism or converted to other uses. In many palces this would kick-start long-term industries such as tourism and manufacturing. In the worst cases, where a country couldn't use or maintain the facilities, the scrap materials would still make a difference to the economy. It would also force us to take a good and close look at how the majority in the world lives and may prompt individuals and corporations from the developed world to maintain ties.

7 August 2012 at 15:24  
Blogger Dreadnaught said...

' what is essentially an economically non-productive task'

Inspiration, motivation, confidence boosting, team building are all essential elements in strengthening the economic performance of any workforce - even the military give a better return on the defence budget if they believe in themselves. Whereas, basket weaving and selling the product at the road side won't contribute much to the GDP or build a swimming pool.

7 August 2012 at 17:03  
Blogger Office of Inspector General said...

One suspects His Grace has little idea of how much a Main Battle Tank costs, or even a Jet Fighter. There’s only so much foreign aid some of these countries get you know !

Swimming pools indeed…

Well, if it came to it, we could open up the equestrian events to camels, one supposes, at a push, though dressage would look rather queer, what !

7 August 2012 at 17:41  
Blogger Office of Inspector General said...

The rich man at his swimming pool
The piss poor at the gate
He made them high or lowly
And ordered their estate

7 August 2012 at 17:49  
Blogger len said...

'He' being the' god' of this world Inspector?.

The Creator of the Universe(God)wishes all to come to know Him and to prosper.

The' god of this world system' wishes the exact opposite.

7 August 2012 at 19:15  
Blogger Office of Inspector General said...

You what ?

7 August 2012 at 19:49  
Blogger Marie1797 said...

Has His Grace come over all socialist?
Where would Ethiopia get the water from for all these swimming pools I wonder? They've hardly got enough to drink! And would any of them be any good at swimming anyway? Black people are better at running, African countries do seem to clean up in these events. Nations compete at what they are good at that's what the Olympics are all about. I haven't seen any top dressage teams from the Arab countries and yet they have money and breed the top horses.

7 August 2012 at 20:20  
Blogger Office of Inspector General said...

Marie. You are right – less of this red talk Archbishop, what !

If these places want Olympic grade training grounds, they can get off their tanned behinds and building them themselves.

And yes, the Inspector is allowed to say ‘Olympic’. He is the official sponsor of bullshit....

7 August 2012 at 20:29  
Blogger Office of Inspector General said...

{AHEM} ‘build’ of course. Spellchecker makes lazy buggers of us all in the end...

7 August 2012 at 20:31  
Blogger Methusalem said...

You better worry about poor Ethiopia beating you big time in the upcoming distance events. They already have 2 Gold and two Bronze medals. Not bad for a poor country without pools, ehh?

8 August 2012 at 00:47  
Blogger ENGLISHMAN said...

what about the brand new sport of masquerading as british,the only danger is being drowned in colemans saliva.

8 August 2012 at 07:38  
Blogger The Way of Dodo the Dude said...

Avi said ...

"Ethiopia would compete in grain bag grabbing and tackling their way in a 20 metre dash through grasping crowds; Albania would do well in kidnapping competitions; Belarus would give a good challenge in vodka-tossing, Gaza in rocketry and even well-of countries can join."

And Israel in an overnight house building on disputed territories?

8 August 2012 at 12:52  
Blogger Avi Barzel said...

Dodo said, And Israel in an overnight house building on disputed territories?

Overnight is too slow. A mix of modular and dry-laid, large unit masonry shallow foundation system with pre-fabbed, auto-sealable walls I've worked on in a team of about 30 people aims for 2 hours. With water, sewage and electrical in place, the housing units are fully ihabitable and moderately fortified from rioters and snipers, with only minor interior cosmetics remaining. The one we tested took 4 hours. Short of our target, I know, but mostly because of glitches with the plumbing. We're looking at more robust and lighter solutions from a state-of-the-art company in Taipei; fellow democracies under siege by tyranies need to work together, dont you think?

8 August 2012 at 18:08  
Blogger carl jacobs said...


Building houses again, are we. Oh, the insidiousness of it all! What is the next stage of this malignant Israeli conspiracy? Building roads?


8 August 2012 at 19:59  
Blogger The Way of Dodo the Dude said...


Then it's a Gold Medal, for sure. And wouldn't it be good if Israel could beat Gazza in rocketry!

I see a special committee of experts is to investigate why Israel has not won any medals at the London Olympics.

The government is responsible for Israel’s failure according to Kadima MK Ronit Tirosh - the chair of the Knesset’s Lobby for the Promotion of Sports. “Our current approach doesn’t work,” Tirosh said. “In Israeli society, we like to take shortcuts, but Olympic success requires a long-term investment."

There we are, a new event - "Taking Shortcuts"!

8 August 2012 at 20:25  
Blogger Old Blue Eyes said...

I cannot understand all the cheering about GB and gold. The association of those initials with that metal is enough to make a Briton wince.

8 August 2012 at 21:38  
Blogger Avi Barzel said...

Carl: Ha! You got it; build houses first and worry about the road later, once the all-terrain vehicles have tested out several routes and the guv has been nudged to commit.


Wow, not even a bronze? That's pretty bad, I guess. The antisemites. Just kidding, Dodo. Alas, I've no idea about anyone's medals or lack thereof; I'm profoundly indifferent to all sporting events without favour or prejudice. Wife and kids hoot and holler now and again, probably when Canada does something they approve of, but the only bit of the whole games I've seen so far is a ten second clip of the Korean weightlifter dislocating his elbow, and that's only because a friend shoved his iPhone at me. And it figures Kadima would try to blame anything they can on Bibi, but lack of medals?

8 August 2012 at 23:09  
Blogger The Way of Dodo the Dude said...

It's all about the money Avi, or lack thereof!

Personally, I think it's hard to justify the millions spent on sport and the departure from the ethic of the amateur. Israel, I'm sure, has more pressing demands on its budget.

Still, it must surely have the ability to win at least one medal in something - anything.

8 August 2012 at 23:53  
Blogger Richard Gadsden said...

Because Kazakhstan, winners of the gold medal in the men's road-race cycling are noted for being such a wealthy country.

Once a country is wealthy enough to have half-decent roads, which, OK, isn't sub-Saharan Africa (outside of South Africa), road cycling is a cheap sport, likely to have wider mass participation in middle-income countries where cars are a luxury than in wealthy countries where they are universal.

Track cycling is different, in that you need a track, and competition-quality velodromes are expensive (GB will soon have three, built for the 2002 Commonwealth Games, 2012 Olympics and 2014 Commonwealth Games), but road cycling is like soccer; you can reach a high enough quality in a poor country to get recruited by a pro team and then they will pay for training you to world-class standard.

Equestrian sports are so narrowly practised even in rich countries that a small rich subset of society can give even a relatively poor country a chance at a medal (Saudi Arabia just won one - if you remember all the non-citizen residents, their GDP per capita isn't that impressive). Sailing, I suspect, is similar.

Swimming I'll give you - you can swim in rivers to develop a basic skill, but the only people who pay pro swimmers are national teams, and poor countries can't afford to pay national teams.

But middle-income countries do pretty well at the Olympics. Hungary has won a stack of golds, and has a per-capita under $20,000 (UK is about $36,000)

9 August 2012 at 20:14  

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