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Is Team GB impoverished by offering no cash for gold?

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John Beattie | 10:31 UK time, Friday, 27 July 2012

Do you try harder if someone pays you money? Hand on heart, I think a win bonus works. So why is Great Britain the only top-10 competing nation not to offer money for a gold medal?

Do you, like me, see an anomaly in the fact that £500m in lottery and taxpayers' money has been handed out to Olympic sports since the Games were awarded to London in 2005 and yet there is no win bonus?

The rain battered off my student accommodation window this morning. The opening ceremony beckons, a day of broadcasts lies ahead and our Olympics correspondent, Kheredine Idessane, has arrived to join our small team.

Jane Lewis, who was presenting the morning news bulletins, hooked up with me by phone early in the morning to talk about what we'd say when we were on air on Good Morning Scotland.

I've been to a couple of media conferences here now, a basketball one and a swimming one. Pops Mensah-Bonsu, the Great Britain basketball player, recounted how he had grown up behind Tottenham police station and said that he hoped he was a role model for youngsters. He then categorically said that he would pay to take part in the Olympics.

The swimming media conference followed and the three present - Keri-Anne Payne, James Goddard and Robbie Renwick - also talked of the honour they felt in competing at the Olympics. Payne, specifically, said that she had turned down money-earning opportunities to concentrate on training to help her win gold.

And then Sir Steve Redgrave was on TV last night saying that here in the UK we are fixated by medals. You and I might think this was a Corinthian call. But, instead, he went on to say that the only medal that matters is gold. Silver, he said, is first loser.

And yet no win bonus for a gold medal? That's when I thought that Jane and I should talk about it.

While Team GB won't pay a win bonus for winning gold, the Germans dosh out £12,436, the Australians £12,906 and we rise up through the other teams in ascending value - the United States, South Korea, Japan, China, France and we end up at the top two Olympic gold prospectors: the Russians at £85,791 and those paragons of tax collection, the Italians at £116,075.

So let's examine this. If anyone out there thinks the athletes who compete for Great Britain are glorious amateurs then they are deluded.

There are various stages of funding depending on the level of support they receive - the base level is £29,000 tax free - and they are able then to get their own sponsorship, within limits, and they also compete for prize money at the tournaments they go to around the world. Ironically, they take part in those events to get ranking points so that they can be selected to compete at the Olympics.

So, somehow, it's okay to be paid to train thanks to taxpayers' money and it's okay to be paid to compete at events around the world, but it's not acceptable in the UK to be paid to win an Olympic gold medal?

Lots of athletes will say they don't want, or need, to be paid to compete at the Olympics. Which misses the point that they already are. And the fact that a gold medal comes with its future promise of financial reward as a direct result of winning that gold medal.

Perhaps that's enough?

Most management studies into the role of money in the workplace examine the unique ability of cash to make people unhappy. Money makes you jealous, but if you have no money and you need to eat then money comes in very handy. And most established sports, like football, rugby (both codes), professional basketball, cricket and a host of others, offer win bonuses.

I know that motivation in sport is very complicated. But, despite its car-crash effect in the world of high finance, where top businessmen, it seems to me, are given millions for managing companies as successfully as I might, money seems to talk.

Would giving Team GB athletes a win bonus for gold medals affect the final medal table and shift the emphasis, as Redgrave wants, from winning a medal to focussing on gold? I wonder.

And is it right to offer money to win a gold medal in the first place?

Right, off to prepare for the opening ceremony. When they called for "JB", I completely misunderstood. James Bond, now there is a man who had his eye on gold.

How exactly do you fly a helicopter?


  • Comment number 1.

    A wee bit early for Justerini & Brooks, John-Boy!

  • Comment number 2.

    (a wee goldie).


  • Comment number 3.

    Personally i dont think if an athlete gets a silver medal they will come out and say "If only i was getting £12,000 for a gold medal i would have tried that wee bit harder" They will all try their best and if its not good enough it wont be down to prize money for medals

  • Comment number 4.

    So not only do we pay for the training we should also pay if as a result of that training they do what they are paid for. I would have thought the threat of funding being taken away if they dont perform is a better incentive than the top athletes who are probably on the most money getting even more if they do as expected

  • Comment number 5.

    As I understand it, the olympics are the highlight of your career. You 'have' to do a personal best performance. You spend 4 years training for it and if you can't do your best then you might just as well not bother. If you are doing your best and you get silver then a bonus of £12,000 isn't go to make any difference. Is this a prelude to thinking about giving prize money for 1st, 2nd and 3rd etc.? De Coubertain would never stop swivelling!

  • Comment number 6.

    14:17 UK time, Wednesday, 25 July 2012
    "Welcome to my first Olympic blog. I'll be writing one every day during the Games."


  • Comment number 7.

    Agree that a bonus is a great incentive - but surely only relevant if you're not motivated to the max without it. John, would you have played harder if you had been paid for a win? Doubt if you could, simply because I suspect you were fully committed already. Therefore should we use incentive payments for those who will only perform because of them? I don' t think so. Give the money to those in the development stage. There are plenty of other stages where athletes can earn.

  • Comment number 8.

    Bluenose79. Then why do we offer win bonuses in football and rugby? Doesn't the thought of a win bonus add to the training effort in the lead up to the event and toughen the senses?

    2nd team - yup good idea, I do think they have that threat of funding removal at the moment as well if they drop away from certain performance targets.

    Howard. Isn't de Coubertain swivelling a bit already? The Olympics aren't just about competing. Athletes are driven by the very selfish desire to win at the expense of others, we are jingoistic in our views, and every athlete we see if paid to do what they do.

    Alan- Your point is a great one. I hope all is well. My life as a rugby player was as an amateur one, training after work, in the dark, by myself. I lost weight through over training. I think that if I had known that I might have been able to get some money if I had won things then I might have been able to train more and work less, thereby becoming a better player. I watched Keri-Anne Payne at a press conference earlier in the week and she talked about turning down money earning opportunities to concentrate on training. Now what if athletes feel they need that extra money and a company were to offer cash but it meant not being able to train? If there was money for a gold medal would that not change the choice.

    My point is this: Someone says to you it's £1m to win a gold medal and at the moment you earn nothing. What is your mindset and what do you set out to do?

  • Comment number 9.

    Sometimes I think the media directly and the rest of us indirectly feed the monster. Creating expectations infers that we have some personal interest in the performance of teams and individuals. If we choose to place that burden on these teams and individuals then they surely deserve a reward beyond their own gratification - after all that entitles everyone to complain if and when their expectations are not fulfilled!

    Where teams and individuals are competing as a means of fulfilling only their own ambitions, what right do we have to complain if, after they have done the best they can and having given their all, they simply fail to meet the aspirations we heap on them.

    If they take the money then they are accepting all that goes with it, including the grief that comes with failing to be successful on behalf of those who can never actually do what they can do.

    It's why I loved the amateur (but not shamateur) ethos particularly when it came to supporting teams representing Scotland or Great Britain. In exchange, you can only ask that the representatives do their best which is why they were selected. Professionalism has a totally different ethos.

    It is a bargain worthy of Faust. Take the money as a means of achieving your personal dreams or ambitions but, in doing so, you have to accept that you have sold something precious that you may never be able to regain.


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