Gold or bust -

Gold or bust


Dan Gardner considers the public policy and politics of Olympic sport.

Stand back and look at Olympic funding around the world and it’s obvious that nations are locked in an arms race. Each seeks to beat the other by boosting funding but they find it is harder and harder to pull ahead by spending more. Worse, “it costs more and more money even to stay in the same place in the medal tables,” notes Peter Donnelly.

Now, does any of this sound like a fair athletic contest? Not really. It’s a funding competition. The “winners” are those countries most willing to take money from health care and jobs and other national priorities and spend it on the Olympics. Canada could win this competition, if that’s what Canadians want. We’re a rich country. We could outspend the Chinese. For a while. But would that be something to be proud of? No. It would be foolish. And shameful.

More from Dan here and here. Dave Feschuk makes the case for more spending. The Prime Minister said over the weekend he expects corporate sponsors to cover the projected funding shortfall.


Gold or bust

  1. Yeah, but the PM also said there'd be 200,000 new daycare spots because of his tax credit, and something about whether a recession would have occurred by now….

  2. We should just keep funding our athletes at the same level that we're funding now. No need to get into an "arms race". We seem to have found a level of support that works.

    • Are we not already well into the "arms race"? If we should not get "into" such a race, why should we continue it?

      Simply maintaining the funding at current levels requires someone pick up the $11M slack. The COC is suggesting the Feds roughly double their current funding. Gardner is simply asking if that is the best use (on the margin) of $11M of tax revenue. Seems to be a darn good question.

      • I think the marginal utility of Olympic sport funding is higher than the marginal utility of most other kinds of government spending.

        • Against what measurable benefit? (That's not meant to be snarky.)

          • Measurable benefits: medals at Olympics and sporting meets, economic benefits to Canada's sports industry (sporting facilities, trainers, equipment manufacturers, etc.)

            Unmeasurable benefits: boost in national morale, more youths encouraged to take up sport, improved public health through national promotion of sports and fitness.

        • Education, Research, Health care versus: bobsleigh, skeleton, luge, biathlon, ice dancing et al? The marginal utility of ice dancing is what exactly?

          Can't get there. The elite sport spending is really about politics, not sport nor pride nor healthy lifestyle.

          • The elite sport spending is really about politics, not sport nor pride nor healthy lifestyle.

            And economics. The CTV Olympic television coverage with respect to the ratio of; actual sport content to commercial content to propaganda content? Well, the less said the better.

            However, suffice to say – when switching channels to NBC during the Sunday hockey game you are presented with fewer commercials, more and better hockey coverage plus commentary and analysis of at least equal quality – "Something is rotten in the State of Denmark."

    • Works for what?

      For achieving short bursts of irrational jubilation at satisfying petty and primitive desires for tribal superiority, all based on the ludicrously insignificant fact that a teenager from within the same border as I exercised quicker than a teenager from without?

      Is it just me or does the Olympic medal need to begin being awarded to the man who approaches the top of the Skeleton track, peers down the ice-covered mountain, ponders being sucked down the slope at 200 km/hr as gravity's play-thing, turns around and says, "On second thought, guys, I'm gonna go hang out in the chalet hot-tub with the Swedish women's ski team?"

  3. This strikes me as an exaggeration. Own the Podium (good program, poor name) needs $22 million per year, which isn't a significant part of our budget. Since there are 34 million Canadians, that's less than a dollar per person, and definitely less than $2 per taxpayer. Ask people who were watching the Olympics this week if they'd pay $8 to see something similar in Sochi, and I'm betting a lot of people would say yes.

    Money alone doesn't make good athletes, and I'm guessing there's a diminishing result for each dollar added as funding gets higher. Other nations may have reached the point where more money won't bring more medals, but I doubt that we have.

    • Own the Podium is a good program and a great name. Why not have a slogan that pushes you to be the best.

  4. I guess Donolo figures only Liberals are entitled to their entitlements. So what if a whole nation can get up and say, "hey, we really kicked ass at the highest level.'

    Even a cynic like me was moved to teary eyed smiles at the splendour of it all…and my kid's school has been closed because of profligate Liberal olympic spending in BC. Too bad we are spurred to nationalism when all the lefty lick-spittles want us to be globalists. Too bad we are the little country that could.

    btw, seeing Jack Layton at Gretzky's bar and the PM sitting with the real deal was a pretty interesting juxtaposition doncha think…kind of a parallel with the old coalition, wishing and pretending vs truth on the ground.

    • Donolo, Donnelly…easy mistake to make with blue tinted glasses.

      • Zing!

        • My bad, but considering I always feel I'm in the communications office of the OLO/coalition when I visit this site, perhaps i can be forgiven

          • Remove the glasses, and then get back to us.

  5. "Now, does any of this sound like a fair athletic contest? Not really. It's a funding competition. "

    Let's build on this: midterms aren't a fair academic contest, they're more of a studying competition.

    "most willing to take money from health care and jobs and other national priorities"

    Wasn't Gardner a Harris Tory? How does one take money from "jobs"?

    "No. It would be foolish. And shameful."

    Pride is shameful, 2+2=5, etc., etc. Gardner's gadfly schtick is getting old, and hard to keep track of. On one hand the war on drugs is an incursion on liberty, but he seems OK with mandatory socialized medicine and the government creating "jobs". Oh well, he made it through a column without mentioning George Bush, so that's progress I guess.

  6. I take it as given that government spending should be directed toward the greatest benefit for most citizens in the long term (as opposed to the actual practice of directing spending toward the greatest likelihood of winning the next election). Framed this way, the question becomes "What are the benefits of adequately funding elite athletes?"

    Not to downgrade the importance of national self-esteem in the short term, but it seems to me that there is a clear danger that our glorious quest for gold is more likely to inspire us to be a nation of spectators rather than a nation of participants in athletic activities. Have any studies been done of the effect of high achievement by a country's elite athletes on participation rates in healthy exercise (whether in organized sports or more informal pursuits)?

    • That's pretty much my take on things too. I'm always ready to be convinced with evidence, but my sense is that we too often justify funding elite atheletes and winning medals with appeals to a trickle-down benefit for the population at large.

      • Trickle is exactly the right word. Not torrent or gush, just trickle, a tiny trickle.

  7. Out of curiosity, did some survey determine people were having problems finding the "Reply" button?

    Or is it' being XBOX huge some browser side problem?

  8. Or we can look at the US model, whereby the funding is extracted from private corporations on a sponsorship basis.

  9. "in the end we could not keep up with the expense involved in the arms race, the space race, and the peace race."

    I will not allow there to be a gold-medal gap!

  10. Americans outspend us by a mile and get a special sweetheart deal with broadcasting rights that they funnel back to their athletes – and WE STILL KICKED THEIR BUTTS – where it counts – says it all folks – as we owned the gold on the podium – case closed!

  11. There is an element of national pride and unity that came from this Olympics that I've never seen before in this country. It actually reminds me of the days immediately after 911 in the US. It's brotherhood. It's esprit de corps. It lifts our spirits, gives us something good held in common, inspires us to do better, and fosters national unity.

    If a couple of billion will provide enough support to athletes that they can achieve this then I say it's well worth it. Other than national defense, this is exactly the sort of thing I want government spending money on. With sufficient pride, confidence, and willingness to work hard for success I think all our other problems will take care of themselves.

  12. It seems to me that every event in the Olympic Games can be put into one of two categories: Exercise or Leisure. We all know that practice makes perfect, so it is safe to say that all of the medal winners at this past Olympics have had a lot of practice – that is: a lot of time spent on exercise and/or leisure, what we usually refer to as free time.

    These athletes do not need further funding… they need jobs!

  13. Why don't we just declare heart surgery, biomedical research, literature, low-income housing construction, and classical music to be Winter Sports? That way all the fiscal conservatives, lest they seem UNPATRIOTIC, will have to be quiet when we start pouring money into them. Hell, we could have Senate Committees be a form of Podium-Owning and then the various cut-rate jingos and yesterday's soccer moms can get all fired up with Pride whenever Duffy breaks another chair.