How Do Olympic Athletes Earn Money?

olympic ringsIf you’re up on your sporting events, then you’ll know all about the Tokyo Olympics has just taken place. The event, which was scheduled to occur in 2020 but was postponed like so many other sporting occasions due to the coronavirus pandemic, has seen athletes from all corners of the globe participate in different sports. This all kicked off following a fascinating opening ceremony in Tokyo, although the event has taken place behind closed doors, meaning that fans are not in attendance at all.

This has led to a somewhat unique Olympic Games, with high hopes for everything to be back to normal for the 2024 Olympics scheduled to take place in Paris, France. However, with so many different sporting events included within the Olympics, and multiple athletes competing for a medal of some kind, a question has been raised about these competitors. How do they earn money for participating in the Olympics? After all, they are often considered to be much more amateur athletes than those engaging in professional sports events, such as Premier League footballers or PGA golfers.

Here, we’re going to take a closer look at how Olympic athletes earn money. Generally speaking, there isn’t any sort of financial pay-off for participating in the Olympics, although different countries do have different policies in place for athletes, depending upon their performance. Let’s find out more about how these competitors earn their funds.

Do Olympic Athletes Get Paid?

people standing on different sized piles of moneyEvery four years, the Olympic Games generates a mass of money, and this is true even in the year of this pandemic throwing up so many barriers. For example, NBC has paid out a huge sum of $7.7 billion (£5.5 billion) just to have the sole right to broadcast the Olympics right up until 2032. Not only that, but it has also sold a total of $1.25 billion (£895.4 million) in advertisements for the Games this year. Figures suggest that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) is set to earn between $3 billion and $4 billion (£2.15 billion to £2.86 billion) just on television rights for this year’s Olympics event.

As it happens, it has been speculated that Tokyo 2020’s delayed event could actually end up being the most profitable Olympics ever held. However, it’s also true to say that despite the vast amounts of income surrounding the Games, the athletes themselves won’t see much of it at all.

In total, around 11,000 competitors are entering into events within the Tokyo Olympics, while 4,000 Paralympians will compete in events later on in August. The largest portion of the athletes from all the countries participating cannot be considered rich, or even remotely close to being rich.

Now, you may think that a little difficult to believe, considering athletes like Simone Biles and Tom Daley are being thrust in our faces on television. Naturally, there are exceptions to the general rule, and those athletes have managed to secure themselves very well-paid advertising and endorsement deals prior to the Olympics. Yet even they had to start out somewhere. Ms Biles and Mr Daley didn’t enter into their first Olympics being flush with cash.

As it happens, a survey was conducted with elite athletes from a total of 48 countries, which revealed something astonishing. More than half of them can be considered as being limited financially, and this information was revealed prior to the threat of COVID-19. That pandemic made those financial situations even harsher for many of them, due to the fact that the 2020 Games were postponed, and other sports were cancelled outrightly.

The sad fact is that most Olympians do not earn any money at all for entering into competitions within the Games.

How Do Athletes Get Paid?

payoutIt may look like these competitors are living the high life, getting to travel to a different country somewhere and experience the culture there etc. However, it is usually the Olympic Teams of each country that provides travel expenses to these athletes. And the funds for that aren’t often given by the governments of these countries. Instead, it generally takes a pool of funds donated by private and corporate donors to amass enough.

If an athlete is considered to be one of the best and has impressed judges and spectators alike in their respective sport, then perhaps they’ll be able to benefit from a direct income as a result of corporate sponsorships. If you were to take a look at the fantastic tennis star Naomi Osaka, she is likely to have been sponsored by multiple brands. This provides her with a financial stream that allows her to support herself during training and competition.

It was reported that Osaka earned a total of $55 million (£39.4 million) from endorsements over the past 12 months, with an extra $5 million (£3.58 million) coming from certain sponsorships. Some of the companies providing this income include big-name brands like Louis Vuitton and Google.

However, not all Olympians have the star-status that Osaka, Biles, Daley and others have been granted. Despite potentially obtaining a gold medal in their chosen sport, this doesn’t automatically mean that they will be picked up for endorsements and so on.

Medal Bonuses Can Be Earned

bonus being givenSome countries do aim to reward their best athletes with what is referred to as a Medal Bonus. This is not something that is available in all countries competing in the Olympics, but locations like the United States of America does have such a reward scheme in place. For each medal won, the athletes will be the recipient of a medal bonus.

However, countries like the United Kingdom, Sweden and Norway, do not pay their Olympic gold medal winners. In the UK, the Government does put aside around $160 million (£114.7 million) each and every year, which is given to Olympic and Paralympic sports. Some of that money is provided for annual athlete training and stipends. Medallists get the most out of this, with training worth between £37,000 and £57,000 being provided. Athletes who are potentially podium-worthy garner training worth around £22,000 to £37,000. The UK’s National Lottery has also donated money towards this throughout the years.

Australia has a similar setup to what the United States provides, offering rewards to their medallists. Gold medallists generally receive around £11,000, while silver medallists get £7,500 and bronze medallists receive £5,700. This was all set up around the Adidas Medal Incentive Funding Program. The US program sees gold medallists receive about £18,000, with silver and bronze recipients gaining £11,000 and £7,500, respectively.

Things are quite nicely heightened when it comes to Singapore though, where gold medallists receive a massive £570,000 reward, and silver recipients obtain about £280,000. Joseph Schooling won a gold in the men’s 100 metre butterfly swimming final, with 20% of that going back into the Singapore Swimming Association for future development.

Some other countries reward their medallists in the following way:

South Africa£28,000£14,000£5,300

What About Those Who Don’t Win A Medal?

4th placeOf course, with only top 3 finishing positions available to obtain in each event, that leaves a lot of competitors without a medal to their name. Of course, they get the benefit of experiencing the Olympics and enjoying the competition in general. But other sorts of pay-off aren’t something that come by easily.

These competitors need to come up with other ways of making their money so that they can survive.

IOC members get to benefit from watching the Olympics, making about $7,000 (£5,000) for two-and-a-half weeks of spectating. That’s more than most of the athletes participating in the Olympics get to earn. And this just doesn’t seem like a fair situation to be in.

Generally speaking, anyone getting involved in the Games should be aware of the fact that it’s not something that will earn you bucket loads of cash. Everyone has to start somewhere, so those athletes who aren’t likely to come away with medals on their first or second entries into the Olympics for example, should have another revenue stream sourced. This is because they’re not likely to garner a reward for training or for winning a medal and they aren’t likely to be on the receiving end of endorsements from big corporations.

In fact, those athletes who cannot secure funding from donors, corporations etc. tend to have basic everyday jobs. A regular job gives them a sort of flexibility to be able to train for their specific sport, and often includes them working a role that features a physical component to it. This can be anything from coaching through to fitness instruction and so on.

Take a look at American pentathlete Dennis Bowsher, who competed in the Summer Olympics of 2012 in London. He finished in 32nd place overall in that competition, but in his everyday life, he is an army specialist.

Or you could turn your attention to the discus thrower Lance Brooks, who also competed in the London Olympics. After making it onto the US team for this, he returned to his job in construction, pouring concrete every day. Speaking on his work there, he stated, “It’s probably not the ideal job to have as an athlete, but it pays the bills and you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do”. He has also sought out work in the Energy and Oil and Gas industries, where he hopes to gain a steady income and career from such.

Of course, there are several former athletes who have competed in the Olympics that now make big money doing other work. Take a look at Jason Statham, who competed for England’s diving team at the 1990 Commonwealth Games. He is now a successful actor, having starred in films like Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Fast & Furious 6. Other actors who are former athletes include Ryan Lochte, Esther Williams and Johnny Weismuller.

Reality star Bruce Jenner, now known as Caitlyn Jenner, was a track and field star before going on to become well-known in the television series Keeping Up with the Kardashians. Floyd Mayweather and Kurt Angle went on to become professional athletes in the worlds of boxing and wrestling, respectively. Meanwhile, gymnast Nadia Comaneci became a coach as well as a promoter of gymnastics wear and aerobics equipment.

Olympians Potentially More Open to Match Fixing

match fixing on chalk boardIt’s so difficult to become a high-paid star in the Olympics, and while some competitors hold down regular jobs in their home countries, others do resort to alternatives. Match fixing has a much stronger potential to occur through Olympics athletes.  It is one reason why Olympics betting markets tend to be more limited than professional sports and the maximum stake/payout limits are much lower.

These competitors cannot earn money from participating in their respective events, so they may be swayed by sports bettors who invite them to partake in a match fixing setup. Through this, they would throw out an event and intentionally lose in order to benefit from a large sports bet placed by someone.

Multiple reports of match fixing, not specifically in the Olympics, but in sports in general, have been noted in the past. In 2007, the French tennis player Arnaud Clément spoke of being offered a bribe to proceed with fixing a match. He noted that he turned it down but wouldn’t reveal anything more about the circumstances behind the request.

Prior to the 2012 Summer Olympics taking place, the Japanese women’s national volleyball team came under scrutiny during the qualifying period. Allegedly, they threw a match against the Serbian team as a way of securing a better Olympic seeding.

Another incident in 2006 saw the Malaysian national field hockey team file a complaint regarding the Japanese and Pakistani teams. According to the complaint, the two teams intentionally tied with a 0-0 result during their match in the 2006 Asian Games.

Whether or not any of these had anything to do with match fixing for sports betting payoffs is questionable. However, athletes presented with such an opportunity have much more of a temptation to participate in such, due to the lack of rewards that they can receive from competing in the Olympics. Regardless of which, this isn’t the way to go about receiving money from engaging in the Games, although it is clear to see why the potential for it is there.