Turning our money into Olympic Gold


by Leon
21st August, 2008 at 3:57 pm    

There’s a thought provoking piece in The Times today about how striking gold at the Olympics maybe far more representative of how much money you spend rather your country’s athletic talent:

It is striking that Britain’s medal success generally comes in sports that are not merely expensive but that are also so unpopular that athletes cannot earn enough from prize-money and endorsements to support themselves. Success in these sports – such as rowing, sailing and track cycling – can essentially be bought by siphoning off money from the public purse and handing it to the athletes who are then able to train like professionals.

Indeed, it is a cause for self-congratulation rather than discomfiture in the sporting community that the improved success of British athletes in recent years has been achieved by outspending many of our rivals. That is not to take anything away from the athletes, who are hard-working and talented. It is merely to say that success in sport – like in the agricultural market – is easier when it receives huge state subsidies.

How does the Government get away with this raid on the public purse? By claiming that Olympic success inspires grassroots participation, which, in turn, has a benign long-term impact on the public finances. It is an argument with everything on its side except evidence. The reality is that elite success has no sustained impact on participation, and, even if it did, the fiscal effects would be ambiguous.

Well that’s one way to spend tax payers money. I expect a massive campaign from the Tax Payers’ Alliance (with full rightwing blogger backing) any day now…


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  1. Rumbold — on 21st August, 2008 at 4:05 pm  

    I never thought that you would post this Leon. Taxpayers’ money being spent subsidising elite athletes? A disgrace.

    “I expect a massive campaign from the Tax Payers’ Alliance (with full rightwing blogger backing) any day now…”

    http://burningourmoney.blogspot.com/2008/08/spinning-gold-from-money.html

  2. Leon — on 21st August, 2008 at 4:24 pm  

    I never thought that you would post this Leon. Taxpayers’ money being spent subsidising elite athletes? A disgrace

    You’d be surprised, I do have a Conservative streak in me…

  3. Don — on 21st August, 2008 at 5:02 pm  

    I don’t care what it costs, we’re beating the Aussies.

  4. Cabalamat — on 21st August, 2008 at 7:11 pm  

    By claiming that Olympic success inspires grassroots participation, which, in turn, has a benign long-term impact on the public finances. It is an argument with everything on its side except evidence. The reality is that elite success has no sustained impact on participation, and, even if it did, the fiscal effects would be ambiguous.

    Certainly whenever I’ve done sport, it’s not been because of the olympics. Indeed most of the sporting activities I’ve taken part in aren’t even done at the olympics.

  5. Sunny — on 21st August, 2008 at 10:26 pm  

    Heh, you guys sound like killjoys. This reminds me of the thread ‘Dizzy Thinks’ talking about the millions of pounds the govt spend addresing the Jeremy Clarkson video. He’s another tool who needs a sense of humour.

  6. Andy Gilmour — on 21st August, 2008 at 11:15 pm  

    Oh bloody hell. I just finished reading the original article – the only thought it provokes is how bleedin’ ignorant Mr. Syed is, considering he was an Olympian himself.

    The particular example he used of rowing was so wide of the mark as to be laughable…(I used to be a rower, and if Matthew Syed wants to try to tell me that clubs like Clydesdale, Loch Lomond, or Castle Semple are ‘posh’…!)

    And I love that evidence-free assertion regarding elite success not attracting more participants – the cycling coaches (to pick just one example) have been saying exactly the opposite in interviews.

    Finally, could we make a little distinction between Lottery funding and taxation – another wee error that crept into his reasoning.

    Sheesh.

    I thought “Comment is Free (Because we can’t afford rational thought)” was bad…

    :-)

  7. Sunny — on 22nd August, 2008 at 12:12 am  

    Andy, you should write a slightly longer piece on this, add a few more paras. I’d publish it on Liberal Conspiracy, if you have the time! I love laying into TPA style thinking.

  8. sonia — on 22nd August, 2008 at 12:48 am  

    heh heh, Lottery funding – good point. which it makes it even worse really, who buys Lottery tickets? it is a kind of taxation – of those who are statistically challenged.

    there is the Council tax increase in certain boroughs of London to take note of.

    anyway, you guys are all missing the point. sport as an organised activity generally tends to be competitive so its not then suprising if its used as a tool for nations to ‘compete’. no suprises there. why is sport so often competitive, is more the point, or the more fundamental question. and if it is competitive, then its not suprising people who have the time and energy to worry about winning some particular race are going to be able to focus on that and practise. so by definition, competitive sports is elitist. its about being the winner! what’s that if not elitism.
    and the rest of us have a living to earn.

    and who is suprised that your average neighbourhood johnny isn’t entering the Olympics? its got nothing to do with ‘elite’ sports – its about competitive spirit. have you seen how those athletes train? that’s serious discipline – and what’s driving those people? you have to ask.

  9. sonia — on 22nd August, 2008 at 12:53 am  

    anyway the silliest thing about the Olympics is this involvement of ‘nations’ and ‘Britain’ or ‘China’ getting a gold medal. NO, its a PERSON who gets it. TAKE Away the Country glory aspect of the Olympics and watch governments’ interest dwindle away.

  10. cjcjc — on 22nd August, 2008 at 8:45 am  

    Excellent, working class smokers (buying the lottery along with the fags) subsidising athletes…I love it.
    Thanks for the opera, too, by the way.

    I would have thought that the biggest driver of sport participation was the existence of local facilities…which I understand are going to receive less funding as a result of the money required for the Olympics. Am I wrong on this?

    I love laying into TPA style thinking

    I love waste too.

  11. Andy Gilmour — on 22nd August, 2008 at 11:31 pm  

    Sunny,

    Oooh, ‘eck…what, you mean actually take the time to formulate an idea properly, and back it up with evidence?

    Lawks!

    How long have I got before the concept becomes entirely un-topical, and nobody gives a stuff about all this Olympic flummery anyway? :-)

  12. Leon — on 23rd August, 2008 at 12:16 am  

    About two days.

  13. C Chandra — on 23rd August, 2008 at 12:56 am  

    Stop whinging! Team GB has been magnificent and it is wonderful that Britains 4yearly humiliation at the Olympics has finally stopped. Here’s to an even better performance in London!

  14. Andy Gilmour — on 23rd August, 2008 at 4:14 pm  

    Sunny,

    If it can wait until Monday (after all the medal results are in – for my “Syed-debunking” excel spreadsheet, and I might be out of town tomorrow)?, I’d be absolutely delighted to scribble some stuff for you.

    Been delving out loads of stuff..

    Fer instance, did you know there was a Somali Rowing Federation? mostly based in London!

    :-)

    Cheers,

    Andy

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