A friend sent me a link to an article that was in the Globe and Mail recently about how much money some of Canada’s Olympic gold medalists from Vancouver could expect in terms of endorsements (http://tinyurl.com/299bdua). It was very clear in the article that the vast majority of athletes don’t stand to profit much at all and that there are actually a number of them that listed their expected earnings for 2010 as $20 000 – exactly the government issued bonus for winning gold.
On the one hand I find that disappointing. There’s huge interest in amateur sport, at very least during the Olympics and the advertising dollars don’t filter down to the athletes which in all fairness is the commodity that is being sold. It’s actually a very odd situation. There are billions of dollars changing hands and absolutely massive advertising dollars supporting the whole event and none of it goes directly to an athlete in terms of a paycheck. Sure the athletes are supported from various sources to cover their costs and yes, there are individual companies sponsoring individual athletes but the Olympic Games host amateur sport, an undertaking that is by no means free but doesn’t actually involve paying the performers.
“if you got into amateur sport to get rich and famous, you’re crazy.”
The top Olympic gold-medalists for Canada are making less than half of the salary of the lowest paid Calgary Flame. Seems out of whack, especially when you make certain comparisons of amateur athletes to their professional counterparts. To give a few examples, the Calgary Flames test power output in their training camp with something called a Wingate test which involves sprinting on a stationary bike at a really high resistance. The national speed skating team uses the same test and at least during the years that I was involved in the testing, no Flame was even in the ball park of Catriona LeMay-Doan let alone anyone on the men’s team. There’s also a few guys on the national bobsledding team who are tremendously fast relative to their size. An athlete like Lascelles Brown for example, would be one of the fastest guys on the Calgary Stampeders at 230 pounds!
I have to say I’m not hugely surprised that the trend is what it is. In Torino, the Canadian team won almost exactly the same number of medals but only six gold. This time, there were 14 gold, so it’s a matter of dividing a limited market into smaller pieces (if you look only at gold medals as the Globe article does). Even if there’s as much as 50% more hype and interest, it’s still less attention for any one individual. There will always be a few stories that everyone will latch onto like Alex Bilodeau or Jon Montgomery. But even Cindy Klassen, who was mentioned in the article as having earned more than a million dollars in the last four years, isn’t a millionaire (at least not from her skating exploits). It’s one thing to earn a million dollars over a number of years (before taxes) and another to actually have a million dollars. To be sure there are a few athletes who are making a good wage but it’s literally a few athletes and they’re nowhere near the realm of even a lower end pro athlete.
So what can we take from all this? What’s the point? In my opinion, the point is that amateur sport isn’t complicated in terms of why one participates. It’s easy to get caught up with what’s not fair and what someone else is getting, but you regain perspective when you ask yourself why you got involved in the first place and why you continue to participate. As I’ve had to say to myself a few times in my career, “if you got into amateur sport to get rich and famous, you’re crazy.” If, on the other hand, you got into it for the love of sport and to take your shot at the top – great! Your reasons have nothing to do with money. Don’t get me wrong, I wish there were more money for amateur athletes (and amateur sport in general) but it’s not why you’re there in the first place. Of course a little endorsement here and there is a great bonus.