Monday, September 05, 2016

Post Olympic thoughts

Since Rio 2016 finished a few weeks ago, two issues have been occupying my mind:

1. The (questionable) success of Team GB
Team GB enjoyed it's most successful overseas Olympics, winning 67 medals. Yet there were many countries questioning their success. Sportspeople from France and Australia wondered how the British cyclists performed averagely in the World Championships earlier this year but roared to success in Rio. Even I was wondering how on Earth did Team GB become so good and hoped there wasn't anything else other than hard work, discipline and the will to win - such as hidden motors or doping.

There have been articles on why Team GB has been more successful than in the last Olympics. Most of the success has down to lottery funding. The poor performance at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996, with just one gold medal won, changed the way British sports was administered. UK Sport was established in order to manage the proceeds from the newly established National Lottery. It used the money to target which sports were the most successful and would benefit from funding. The funds went to sportspeople so they could dedicate themselves full time and provide the infrastructure (such as training centres, supporting staff, etc.) to help the sports people be in peak condition. UK Sport is ruthless in the funding - if you don't obtain your target, your funding will decrease. The only targets were Olympic medals, so World Championship medals wouldn't have benefited British Cycling in terms of funding.

The medal target incentive seems harsh but the evidence suggests this plan has worked. Team GB have increased on the medal count at the Olympics ever since Atlanta - a total of five Olympiads. Compare this to the French Olympic team, which has roughly the same amount of funding but even distributes the wealth amongst all sports federations. That system is fairer but not necessarily more successful.

2. Why aren't Olympics sports not covered or celebrated more?
I have been quite tired of football recently. I have been following football less as I grow older. I still follow my team, Arsenal, with their results and highlights but with less enthusiasm. A number of things have disenfranchised me from the sport.

a) The overexposure of football
Football seems to be the top story in most sports media outlets throughout the year. Most of the stories are inconsequential. They include transfer speculation, injury news, reports on the manager's job safety and so on. I reckon most of the stories are made up or at least have bent the truth.

It doesn't help that the football seems to be always on. Out of 380 games during the English Premier League 2016-17 season, 168 games (44%) will be broadcast live. How can you have an uniqueness for a match when one out of two games are shown on TV?

To ensure there is maximum coverage of all matches, fixtures are regularly moved or played at times which are ideal for TV audiences. This has alienated fans who travel to games. These fans have to re-arrange their schedule and rebook travel tickets, which can be more expensive the later the match is re-arranged. Sometimes you can't arrange travel for some matches, such as Friday night, Saturday evening and Sunday. With all this money from TV broadcasting rights, have the paying fans benefited? No, which leads me to another point...

b) The amount of money being thrown around
The TV broadcast deal, for domestic and international rights, will earn the Premier League £10.4 billion over three years. The Premier League and its clubs will also earn lots more in sponsorship. Yet this hasn't trickled down to the paying punter. Single game tickets range from about £22 to £52 for the cheapest seats. If you want luxury, that will cost you £32-97. Unfortunately, with the popularity of the English Premier League, there are people willing to spend that money and these aren't always "true" football fans, rather people who view the game as a day out or an experience, rather than the drama, theatre and emotions true football fans view the game.

In order to stay in the Premier League, or become successful in it, clubs have thrown ludicrous amounts of money into players. The latest transfer window has seen the English Premier League spend more than £1.7 billion on players. Eight figure sums have been exchange for relatively unknown and seemingly average footballers. The average Premier League footballer will earn around £32000 per week or £1.7 million per year. This is just the basic salary and doesn't include their bonuses.

The amount of hype and money thrown around has disenfranchised me from the sport. So where else can I turn to? With the new found success of Team GB, why aren't these sportspeople more revered or paid better? The media should focus on sports which actually create success. Yet they seem to put the spotlight on the England national football team, which seems to limp to the second round of every major tournament before being knocked out by lesser teams.

If the sporting federations of Olympic sports want to capitalise , there's no better time by riding the wave of success. Encourage youngsters into taking up the sports by offering free introductory lessons, offer cheap tickets to sports events and get the Olympians to turn up to promotion events. Because I rather see a medal winning Olympian rather than an average Premier League footballer.

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