State Funding of Elite Athletes

Should the state financially support elite athletes or should it leave them to compete for a limited pot of funding from charities and sponsorship?

State Funding of Elite Athletes

Yes because... No because...

There exists a current problem that many talented athletes cannot devote themselves full time to the...

There exists a current problem that many talented athletes cannot devote themselves full time to the extensive training required to compete at Olympic level, instead they often have to work part-time to fund their living and training costs. Indeed in 2005, B&Q in the UK developed ‘Team B&Q’ to employ athletes in their home hardware stores but offering the flexible hours that athletes find it difficult to secure at other employers. Those who cannot find work are forced to borrow money, often from their parents, as was the case with the 1992 US Olympic sailing team. This need to scrabble for money puts pressure on the athletes, takes their minds off competing and sometimes can even make them consider quitting. The amounts of money involved are large, for instance the 1996 Olympic gold medallist Todd Elderidge’s build-up training cost over $250,000 and financial pressures in the late 1980’s almost forced him to quit. State funding of elite athletes would remove undue pressures which impair their performance for their country.

State funding is a state-run, merit-based system of subsidised leisure for athletes. In most countries the department for Sport (Culture, Media and Sport in the UK) has a limited budget within the overall government budget and funding of elite athletes takes up a share of this budget. The money could be better spent on related areas such as health and education or on increasing the number of sports available at school or club level. The world’s most successful Olympic nation, the United States does not publicly fund its Olympic teams but instead considers their funding a “private and community affair”. The United States Olympic Committee (USOC) receives significant corporate funding which it is free to distribute to individual governing bodies. School pupils in Georgia are encouraged to collect pennies for the Olympic effort and the US Ski and Snowboard team’s celebrity status allows them to organise balls and funding tours in order to raise money to pay for their training and travel. In developed nations funding from the private sector does exist and the obligation should be on athletes and governing bodies to find that funding rather than on the government to provide it.

State Funding of Elite Athletes

Yes because... No because...

The funding squeeze unfairly affects sports that are not considered commercially attractive by spons...

The funding squeeze unfairly affects sports that are not considered commercially attractive by sponsors. At inter-competition level this has the effect of creating a significant disparity in funding between the Olympics and the Para-Olympics due to differences in media coverage and sponsor exposure. At an inter-sport level, less popular Olympic sports such as Taekwando have access to a significantly smaller sponsorship pot than Baseball or Basketball although the elite athletes across most sports have to shoulder similar training costs. Softball, for instance involves 70mph pitches and a similarly rigorous training regime to Baseball but National Softball Federations preparing for the Olympics receive only a fraction of the sponsorship received by a single US Baseball franchise in one year. State funding would create a level playing-field at both inter-competition and inter-sport levels and prevent corporate sponsors for determining the quality of the sport we can enjoy.

Olympic sports rarely find themselves marginalised due to a lack of funding, rather those who make this claim draw a false parallel between European soccer clubs, North American Basketball and Football teams and National sports bodies to say that whilst clubs receive hundreds of millions of dollars in endorsements and TV rights, the British Taekwando Federation receives comparatively little. However this analogy is false because we should only compare national sports federations, not clubs who attract television money and attract players and fans from around the world. Further, there is always a source of funding for sports from their equipment manufacturers, such as Leon Paul in fencing. Finally, one of the reasons why some sports receive more money than others if we allow the market to decide is a greater level of interest, leading to a greater level of participation leading to a higher standard of competition. A state funding system would presumably also allocate funding on a similar basis (or else it would be unfair) so the disparity would still exist.

State Funding of Elite Athletes

Yes because... No because...

Athletes who do succeed in gaining sponsorship are beholden to pressures from their sponsors which c...

Athletes who do succeed in gaining sponsorship are beholden to pressures from their sponsors which conflict with the athletes, governing bodies and nation’s best interests. The companies such as RBC Financial and Bank of America which do sponsor high-profile sport at Olympic level tend both to sponsor individual athletes rather than governing bodies and require corporate commitments of those athletes. If money is received solely by athletes rather than governing bodies, all of a nation’s athletes do not benefit from the advanced facilities such as the Colorado Altitude Centre, available to the Nike Elite Distance Running Team, that some athletes do. Funding directed at governing bodies could be used to construct these facilities for the use of youth and development squads rather than the very best simply being siphoned off to train only with those also sponsored by Nike. In team sports where team training time is already cut to a narrow window by club commitments, domestic seasons and athletes competing in different leagues around the world, the precedence of corporate sponsorship tours further cuts down the ability of Olympic teams to train together. Football (Soccer), whilst probably not a sport eligible for public funding, is a classic example of where international managers already have to negotiate with clubs for player availability for friendly games (facing overlapping domestic seasons). At the same time they also have to defer to sponsorship tours for Bryl Cream endorsements and motivational speeches to company board members.

There is no problem with the development of strong links between business and elite sport. This encourages the development of long-term sponsorship links between the two and often the firms sponsoring are simply supplying cash that can be used by governing bodies to create state of the art training facilities. It is clearly in the interests of the firms sponsoring athletes not to impede their training through corporate commitments as this would jeopardise the athletes’ performance. Sponsors want to be associated with success, not to be criticised in the media by athletes for standing in the way of the medals. In fact very few athletes have problems training the required number of hours a week, Olympic fencers for instance only train for a maximum of 20-25hrs per week, and far more problems arise from overtraining which can result in injury and stress fractures. In terms of timing, it is perfectly possible to manage both sponsorship commitments and training and still have the recovery time needed. In the longer term, interests outside sport are mentally healthy for athletes, and will help to prepare them for life after their competitive career ends.

State Funding of Elite Athletes

Yes because... No because...

Private rather than public funding removes the leverage that governing bodies have over their elite ...

Private rather than public funding removes the leverage that governing bodies have over their elite athletes. Those athletes who are funded or part-funded through the state can be required to assist in the training of athletes in development squads, providing a trickle-down effect, or even asked to help coach in schools. This practice is common-place in Badminton in the UK where members of the England squad based in Milton Keynes are required to put in a certain number of hours assisting in the training of members of Junior squads and coaching in either schools or clubs. The result is a support network for the players and often those players who do not succeed at international level turn out to be talented coaches. Further, public funding thus means that the state can inspire talented young athletes at school level, provide strong role models even to those who would not compete above regional level, and have a positive public health impact by motivating children to get out of the classroom and off the sofa. In the UK House of Commons debate on Olympic funding, one MP pointed out that it was the strong link between schools and sports federations, allowing identification of potential future Olympians from the age of 10, that contributed to the success of the former East Germany in Olympic competition.

The link between elite sporting success and mass participation is vague and unproven and a 1996 study by the University of South Australia showed, at least in Australia, no statistical or causal link between the two. If the state wishes to promote sport in schools in order to improve public health then the money can be better spent directly by employing more Physical Education teachers, improving schools’ sports facilities and buying back school playing fields which are often sold to raise capital, rather than paying elite athletes to compete and hoping that there will be a trickle-down effect. Further, one of the reasons banks and major corporations sponsor elite athletes is to improve their public image and so it is likely that they too would encourage athletes to become role models by taking time to coach in schools. So if there is a trickle-down effect it can be realised without the state having to divert funds away from where they are needed most, deprived state schools. Nor is it desirable to take potential elite athletes out of school at the ages of 10 or 11 to give them dedicated training. Elite sports development squads are pyramids with very wide bases and many talented athletes who don’t quite make the grade are cast off as they get older, leaving them without a career in elite sport or a satisfactory education.

State Funding of Elite Athletes

Yes because... No because...

A successful Olympic squad allows a country to punch above its weight in international relations. S...

A successful Olympic squad allows a country to punch above its weight in international relations. State funding clearly increases the number of medals a nation wins. A 20 year study by the Australian Institute of Sport found a strong linear correlation between the amount of funding received and the number of medals won both between nations and sports. On average, each gold medal costs around $37million and each medal in general costs around $8million. Hence there is a benefit to the state in terms of prestige from choosing to spend some of their limited pot of funding on elite athletes. Further, the population of a nation gets something out of watching their national athletes winning Olympic medals. Sporting achievement can bring people together from different cultural communities and promotes a cohesive national identity. Even at an international level, elite sport can be a great healer of wounds, the resumption of cricket fixtures between India and Pakistan was widely seen as a sign of greater cooperation.

International competition probably does breed nationalism but this is not something that the government should fund and sanction. English football hooliganism both domestically and at international tournaments has shown that ‘integration through sport’ is not necessarily desirable. In fact rioting between Honduran and El Salvador fans during a qualifying match for the 1970 World Cup decided on penalties contributed to the 5 day ‘Football War’ between the two countries in 1969. Further, given that many tensions between communities arise from the presence of immigrant groups of a different nationality (Lebanese in Australia, Pakistanis in England) and that these groups often focus their national identity around their home nation’s sports teams (football and cricket respectively), the fact that the government is seen as funding their competitors does not build bridges. Finally, governments who choose to take credit for their national team’s successes must also explain their failures (see pretty much every English national sports team ever for details). The temporary performance of sports teams is not something the government should stake its popularity on.

Debates > State Funding of Elite Athletes
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