Cash rewards for medalists violates spirit of Olympics

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Adam Van Coeverden

Gazette File Photo

JULIUS CAESAR IS GREEN WITH ENVY. Future Canadian medalists like Adam Van Coeverden can expect to not only have the satisfaction of Olympic gold but, also green in their pockets.

Baron Pierre de Coubertin originally conceived a revival of the Ancient Greek Olympic Games, aspiring to promote international athletics and to conserve the Olympic ideals of sportsmanship, unity and amateurism; essentially, it was for the love of achievement rather than for awards.

This week, the Canadian Olympic Committee desecrated those ideals when it announced it will give cash rewards of $10,000, $15,000 and $20,000 respectively for bronze, silver and gold medals at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.

The bonuses are hardly a motivating factor to drive athletes to the top " surely, Olympic athletes will be motivated by their achievements rather than money " but the very idea of attaching a price to Olympic success directly contradicts the values on which the Games were founded.

Sports are rapidly becoming less about the contest and more about the income " salaries, $300 tickets, TV contracts, endorsements, half-time concerts, MasterCard commercials and million-dollar field goal kicking contests rule the athletic world.

However, the Olympics have remained the last vestige of athletic idealism. Athletes often compete to the detriment of their professional lives.

While the economic benefits of hosting the Olympics are significant, host countries often nearly bankrupt themselves in preparation. Merchandise and tickets might still bring in revenue, but for those directly involved with the Olympics, it’s about sport and competition.

It’s easy to argue athletes need the incentive, given the financial sacrifices they make to compete for their countries. Figure skaters remain at the amateur level to compete internationally, and other athletes are unable to pursue careers because of their training commitments.

However, a tiered, success-driven reward is clearly not just about need, since it ignores athletes who perform at a lower level but make just as great a financial sacrifice.

It’s also not all about incentives " the COC likes to think of it more as a reward to show appreciation " but last year’s Road to Excellence report clearly suggested medal counts are tied to statistics, indicating a large motivating factor behind the rewards is to increase performance.

Proponents of the rewards might point to sports like hockey and basketball, where professionals can now compete. But in addition to ignoring the fact Cold War-era rewards in communist countries necessitated professional involvement for equal competition, this fails to recognize the Olympics remain the last amateur facet of commercialized sports.

Pro athletes leave their contracts, managers and salaries behind to compete for the glory of their nations and for pride, and nothing more.

Yet the COC plans to give athletes direct financial rewards for success, which goes against everything the Greeks and de Coubertin envisioned.

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