TORONTO — The Olympics are a time of celebration for those who have dedicated years of their lives to strive for peak physical performance in their chosen discipline. They’re a chance for everybody across the globe to witness the pinnacle of athletic achievement and for athletes to write their names in the history books. As we, the mundane, have watched Tokyo 2020 with awe through our TV screens at home or sneaked a peek on our phones during coffee breaks at work, one might ask: Does it pay to be faster, higher, stronger?
The answer is yes — if you make it onto the podium.
While the International Olympic Committee doesn’t award prize money to athletes for earning a medal in their events, many countries offer financial incentives for athletes to walk out of the Olympics sporting bronze, silver or gold, including Canada.
Through the Canadian Olympic Committee’s Athlete Excellence Fund, for every bronze, silver or gold medal won at the Games, Canadian athletes are given $10,000, $15,000 and $20,000, respectively, whether you’re an individual athlete or play on a team. That means every player on Canada’s women’s soccer team will be taking home a nice chunk of change. But the one who will be coming home with the heaviest pockets is Maggie Mac Neil, who earned three medals, one of each colour, racing in the pool for a total of $45,000.
If you’re wondering about Olympians who are also professional athletes earning millions of dollars each year, such as the Canadian men’s hockey team, they, too, are eligible for the same reward, but it’s common practice for players to pledge their winnings to charity.
How do these incentives compare to other countries? The answer may surprise you.
Let’s start with our neighbours to the south. The U.S. Olympic Committee awards US$37,500 ($47,100), US$22,500 ($28,250) and US$15,000 ($18,800) to athletes who win gold, silver or bronze, respectively. A big spike compared to the COC, but not nearly as big of a reward as some other nations.
Singapore, for example, offers 1 million Singaporean dollars ($926,600) to its individual athletes who win gold, S$500,000 ($463,300) for silver and S$250,000 ($231,650) for bronze. There’s also a cap, as these athletes cannot earn further rewards after winning an Olympic gold medal, and they must give 20 per cent of what they earned to their corresponding national sports association for future training and development. Only one Singaporean athlete, Joseph Schooling, has ever won an Olympic gold medal after he outswam Michael Phelps at Rio 2016 in the 100-metre butterfly.
Malaysia also puts big money on the table for athletes who win an Olympic medal. Those who win gold get 1 million ringgits ($296,500), while silver and bronze medallists get 300,000 ringgits ($88,950) and 100,000 ($29,650), respectively. Italy gives podium placers €180,000 ($265,800), €90,000 ($132,900) and €60,000 ($88,600) for winning gold, silver and bronze, respectively.
On the flip side, some countries don’t offer any financial reward for their athletes winning a medal at the Olympics. The U.K. is among these nations, but the government does provide robust funding for it’s sports programs aimed at Olympics excellence in excess of £200 million.
There are other financial factors to consider when it comes to the lives of elite athletes, such as endorsement deals and sponsorships, not to mention the different levels of support offered by governments to help athletes train for competition year after year, but when it comes to being a champion, a number of countries are willing to pay back, at least a little bit.