Why The International Olympic Committee Should Start an Olympic Compensation Program

A blog entry written last year by Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks, highlighted some interesting statistics regarding the International Olympic Committee’s revenues. On average, the IOC generates annual revenue of approximately $1.4 billion. A 2010 tax return shows that the IOC actually had a $1.4 billion net balance (in cash). Now that we’ve discussed the grand amount of revenue the IOC generates annually, it’s time to detail the share that the IOC gives to the participating athletes, without whom there would be no such thing as an IOC. This process won’t take me too long, because the IOC shares $0 of revenue directly with the athletes. The money is passed from the IOC to national olympic committees which then give that money to the plethora of sporting federations. The sporting federations then use that money for the athletes. In order to stop the rampant corruption and theft that occurs during this process, I implore the IOC to directly compensate the athletes that participate in each Olympics. They can set up the compensation process so that athletes get paid a portion of the amount the IOC makes from each sport’s broadcasting, sponsorship, and spectator revenue.

The reason I see this as a great policy solution is because I’ve become aware of the culture of corruption that exists in NOC (national olympic committees) around the world. Some of that corruption has made the news and some hasn’t. It would therefore benefit the athletes if they could receive at least some of their training funds directly from the IOC at the Olympics. The truth of the matter is, the vast majority of Olympic athletes aren’t professionals, do not win gold medals, and do not have lucrative corporate sponsorships. Many cannot support themselves from the stipends they receive from their sports governing bodies, and often hold down more than one job to support their primary responsibilities as Olympic hopefuls.  In order to pay rent and to support their families, athletes have to maintain a strict schedule that involves working during the day in a full-time job or even working two part-time jobs, while IOC and NOC executives maintain lavish salaries.

To present the most tragic victim of the IOC’s exploitation, I’d like to bring attention to the case of Samia Yusuf Omar, an impoverished Olympic runner from Somalia. Failing to find any support to train in Somalia in the pre-2012 training period, she moved to Ethiopia, which has better training facilities. When that attempt didn’t prove fruitful, she decided sailing to Europe from Libya was the way to find a coach to train her for the London Olympics. She drowned and died when the boat she was on capsized. Her death was a direct consequence of the horrendous support many athletes receive to fund their living and training. Perhaps if the IOC had a policy of directly compensating athletes for participation in each Olympics, Samia would have received enough money for participating in 2008 to better support her family and train a little more comfortably during the years running up to 2012. How many more Samia Omars are we willing to see drown in the Mediterranean while the IOC profits in billions of dollars?

It’s high time the IOC starts compensating athletes for participating in each Olympics. Athletes in London perform in front of a global audience to profit advertisers, sponsors, media, and the IOC. Why should the athletes, the most crucial segment of the event, not also be compensated? As an Olympian, I know that athletes feel that speaking out would be equivalent to showing ingratitude. Remaining positive is part of our psychological make-up and fuels our will to continue training with passion. This point is why few athletes joined Ray Allen and Dwayne Wade in highlighting the compensation issue in London. Many athletes share the same attitude as Omar El Ghazaly, Egyptian discus thrower, who trains 12 times a week, has two part-time jobs and rarely complains. Regarding the lack of support he stated via email, “I got nothing from my federation, just pressure and zero support…I am not happy with the lack of support for sure, but I am not sad either…if you want really to achieve something and reach your dreams then never wait for any support, and be strong…”

As athletes, we are honored and proud to represent our country. But we’re often underfunded by our sporting federations. It’s therefore crucial that we get support directly from the IOC for Olympic participation instead of getting funded indirectly by often incompetent national sporting federations and national olympic committees. Corruption is rampant among NOCs and national sporting federations. The IOC would eliminate much of this corruption by directly compensating athletes. As Mark Cuban wrote, “What’s more American than getting paid for a hard day’s work?”