An article in The Guardian earlier this month reports it cost Great Britain £5.5 million (R103 million) per medal won at the Rio Olympic Games. Great Britain, second only to the US on the 2016 Olympic Games medal table when it came to gold medals, won 67 medals – 27 of them gold.
The report went on to say that UK Sport, which determines how public funds raised via the national lottery and tax are allocated to elite-level sport, has pledged almost £350 million to Olympic and Paralympic sports between 2013 and 2017, up 11% on the run-up to the London 2012 Games, where they were third on the medals table. Total funding has increased by 16% since the Beijing Olympics in 2008.
The tactic has seen Great Britain’s rise from 36th in the medal table in Atlanta in 1996 to second at Rio 2016. So something is clearly working for Great Britain. South Africa spent R400 million over a four-year period on their Olympians and Paralympians. That’s not pocket change, but considerably less than their foes.
We are not saying copy Great Britain’s game plan. It’s certainly a lot of money, and that large an amount of money could always be better spent on housing, creating jobs and establishing proper public healthcare.
But if South Africa, who had their best Olympics since readmission with 10 medals – two gold, six silver and two bronze – want to take these quadrennial games seriously, we have to invest in our athletes properly.
Sure, Great Britain don’t pay their athletes for winning gold medals, whereas South Africa initially splashed out R500 000 for a gold medal, with R100 000 going to their coach.
In typical fashion, our Minister of Sports Fikile Mbalula at the airport upped Wayde van Niekerk by a further R150 000 for his record-breaking 400m feat and Caster Semenya by R100 000 in the 800m. But that’s not the point. You need to strategically invest money from the beginning if you want to see the sport grow and as a direct result the sportsmen and women hopefully will thrive.
Van Niekerk and Semenya, our two Rio gold medallists, are young and have plenty of running ahead of them. We need to make sure we give them all the support they need so they can continue their dominance in their respective fields.
Planning for the next Olympics in 2020 in Tokyo should have already started. It’s the least we can do for our athletes.