Tokyo Olympics: What price glory?by
Management accountant and Great British Bake Off star Makbul Patel casts an analytical eye over this year's Tokyo Olympics.
In the past few days, I have gotten into a bit of a routine. First thing in the morning I check the news on the Olympics and see how Team GB are doing. Nothing warms my cockles more than learning about gold medals by our contingent in the Tokyo Olympics. Whether it be a gold in BMX or the triathlon, a gold is a gold.
As far as I am concerned, I’d still swell with pride if it was a medal in ‘push ha’penny’ if that was a sport at the games.
Winning medals has become second nature to Team GB. London 2012 saw an impressive performance. In Rio 2016, Team GB became the first nation to excel its medal haul as a host nation at the Olympics - truly amazing.
But I am old enough to remember the 1996 Atlanta games. It was one of our worst performances. Only one solitary gold medal and 36th in the rankings. But hey, I am only an armchair fan. The only way I could come close to participating would be if making a mess of a biscuit tea set on national TV became an Olympic sport.
Some of the success of Team GB at the Olympics has been largely due to investment by the government, sponsorship of private organisations and lottery funding. Millions have been spent to make Team GB one of the most outstanding performers per capita of population.
It would therefore be prudent at this point to introduce some perspective into the medal tally of Team GB. At what price is glory?
I have drawn up the following table to illustrate it simply.
|Tokyo 2020||224.4||51 (5/8/21)||16|
(Source: UK Sport. uksport.gov.uk, Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/)
When the new millennium started with the Sydney games the investment was in double figures, continuing with the Athens games in 2004. However, it was around this time when London was successful in its bid for the 2012 Games.
I would expect the UK government to have increased its funding in anticipation of the 2012 games to promote its famous legacy, which is evident in the increased investment from Beijing 2008 onwards. The medal tally increased. The nation cheered.
However, we are accountants and ratio analysis would be recommended. The following chart makes a sobering read:
Has the investment yielded the returns? If Team GB was a factory, the increase in investment has produced derisory results on the bottom line. Using the Sydney games as a benchmark, we can see that Team GB's cost of each gold medal has increased substantially. The cost of a Rio 2016 gold medal was double that of a Sydney 2000 gold medal. London was an improvement on Beijing 2008 but many would put this down to the ‘host nation’ effect, where Team GB had many factors to its advantage.
It is all well and good Britain doing so well in the Olympics, regardless of the investment that pushes Team GB up the medal rankings. What are the downstream effects of all this funding? Has the nation benefited in other ways besides bragging rights?
One area we can look at and observe is whether the nation’s health has improved or declined. Sport is activity. Sport is participation in exercise and improves health and wellbeing.
I obtained the latest obesity related hospital admissions for the UK. Try not to let your jaw drop.
(Source: NHS digital. http://digital.nhs.uk/pubs/sopad20)
It is horrifying. In the 10 years from 2008/9 the total UK obesity-related hospital admissions increased almost nine-fold. The trend in the age group of up to 24-year olds has followed. I would have thought this is where the government hoped to see seen a decrease. Alas, no.
Clearly there is a disconnect between investment in the Olympics and the benefits at grassroots level. Is the funding elitist and only targeted in sports and geographical areas where it will likely result in a medal? I am no expert. You can slice and dice, turn the health data whichever way you want and the UK’s health will still be suffering.
As far as economic analysis goes, where do you draw the line? Child poverty is more and more in the news. Footballers are having to fight their corner. It’s heart-breaking, not just in the UK but around the globe. The Covid-19 pandemic will have only made things worse.
Maybe I’m being too harsh and getting my head mashed up on the economics of inequality. The Olympics still has plenty going for it. The games are a source of inspiration and a showcase for the ultimate in human sporting achievement.
As a sedentary management accountant, at least it makes me feel less guilty at being so useless at sports. I once nearly got selected as a goalkeeper for the primary school team. That won’t make it onto my CV though.
Good luck Team GB.