What is a cynic? “A man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.” answered Oscar Wilde to that question. It’s an interesting response and I’m left asking about the price of sport versus the value of sport in Ireland.
Ireland is a sports mad nation, by all accounts, sell out crowds in Croker in September, rugby and soccer internationals, albeit not recently, prove that. Huge viewer figures watching live sports on television, the thousands of people who travel to support international soccer and rugby teams and provincial rugby sides in european competition.
Last Saturday in numerous locations around London, Team GB showed that you don’t have to be a Kenyan, Jamaican, Chinese or American to collect gold medals at the Olympics. The exploits of Ennis, Farah, Rutherford, Pendelton, Wiggins, Murray, Ainslie amongst other medal winners for Great Britain show that athletes in this part of the world can compete and beat the best of the rest of the world.
With the advent of professionalism both of the athletes and the global commercialisation of the games over the last 20 years in particular, it has polarised the financial realities at the games, with the multi-million dollar endorsements and salaries commanded by the likes of Roger Federer, Lebron James, Maria Sharapova, and Usain Bolt.
To put this in perspective the combined annual earnings of the top 10 earners at the 2012 Olympics, Federer ($54.3m), James ($53m), Kobe Bryant ($52.3m), Sharapova ($27.1m), Kevin Durant ($25.5m), Carmelo Anthony ($22.9m), Usain Bolt ($20.3m), Novak Djokovic ($19.8m), Chris Paul ($19.2m) & Li Na ($18.4m), comes to a grand total of $312.8m.
The total spend on sport in Ireland during the last four years for which accounts are publically available (2007 – 2010) totals €213.5m ($262.1m) a figure which is dwarfed by a single year’s earnings by our direct opponents for those elusive medals. This figure would have been even greater had David Beckham ($46m) been selected for the Great Britain football squad.
When you consider that this €213.5m million funds not only the athletes, but all the participation programmes, national governing bodies of sport, local sports partnerships, sports facilities, women in sport programme before any athlete receives any direct funding.
Breaking down the numbers even further, in the 12 years from 1999 to 2010 inclusive the total spend on the International Carding Scheme was €25.5m ($31.3m), so Ireland’s top athletes, yes all 334 Irish athletes and 4 teams who received annual funding, received a combined total of less than 10% of the top ten earners at this year’s Games earned in the last twelve months.
So taking an average of the top 10 earners, including Beckham as his profile and sponsorship endorsements with games sponsors will ensure a visible presence at the games, despite his non selection for the football side, the average payment to Ireland’s elite athletes is less than €6,400 per annum, or less than 0.18% of the average of the high flyers.
How are we supposed to compete against odds like that? Proper investment in sports participation would have a two fold benefit, while creating a deeper and wider talent pool for our future international squads, it will also in turn create a fitter and healthier population, which will significantly reduce the required spend on healthcare down the line for future generations and governments. We spend more government money on horses and greyhounds then on human sport and recreation in its entirety. A single percentage slice from healthcare and education would result in a pot of €210m amounting to well over four times the current spend on sport in this country.
With the vast amount of these monies ring fenced for programmes around participation, health awareness and talent identification, we would be much better placed to compete in 2020 or 2024.
What is the price of an Olympic medal? This is a relatively easy question to answer, 550 grams of silver covered with 6 grams of pure gold, a diameter of 60mm and 3mm thick, it costs just under $500 for each gold medal.
But you ask Katie Taylor, or any other Irish Olympian, what the value of an olympic medal is, she’d give up every cent of those top ten earners to be Ireland’s golden girl. It’s about time our sporting authorities helped the next generation of Irish sports stars reach the same heights.
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