Editorial | No Olympic competitor should live in poverty


AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein

German olympian Johannes Ludwig kisses the gold medal he won for the luge men’s single at the 2022 Winter Olympics on Sunday in Beijing, China.

By The Pitt News Editorial Board

The Winter Olympics are in full swing. Beginning last Friday, Beijing will host 109 medal events, seven of which are new. Although there is the excitement leading up to and arriving at the games, what happens when the Olympic competitors go home?

Despite the Olympic Games raising millions, and sometimes billions, of dollars in ad revenue, athletes from countries all over the world are left in a precarious position — hailed as superhumans yet not paid enough for their talents and efforts.

Although training consumes much of the same time and energy as a full-time job, many elite athletes aren’t paid appropriately. In a survey of nearly 500 elite athletes from 48 countries, advocacy group Global Athlete found that 58% didn’t consider themselves financially stable. An even higher number of responses said they did not receive “the appropriate amount of financial compensation” from the International Olympic Committee or the national federations that send athletes to elite competitions.

The U.S. doesn’t even pay their athletes a salary to train or attend the Games.

Australian olympian Jakara Anthony competes in the women’s moguls finals at Genting Snow Park at the 2022 Winter Olympics on Sunday in Zhangjiakou, China. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

No Olympic competitor who has dedicated the majority of their life to their sport should be left to financially struggle. No one should struggle with poverty, but the Olympics showcase the best of the best athletes from around the world, entertaining billions of viewers and inspiring countless people. The least that can be done to ensure the prosperity of the Games and other elite sport competitions, as well as the well-being of the athletes who compete, is to compensate them fairly.

On top of countries not paying athletes enough, there is an Olympic rule — Rule 40 — that guards the intellectual property — logos, images, slogans, music — of the Olympics and asserts the exclusivity of its official sponsors. This means that unless an official sponsor supports an athlete or makes brand deals with them during the Games, Olympic competitors are prohibited from taking part in endorsement opportunities to earn additional funds.

The body that governs Germany’s Olympic competitors found themselves in the middle of a controversy in 2019 when they decided that their athletes would no longer follow Rule 40, allowing personal partnership during the Games and the ability to sign endorsement deals. This forced the International Olympic Committee to revise the rule for the 2021 and 2022 Olympics, now allowing athletes to interact with non-official sponsors while at the Olympics.

Germany helped pave the way for athletes to potentially earn more revenue, but when will all athletes, not just those who win the gold, be paid enough to support themselves and their abilities? The IOC and nations around the world need to do better so we can all enjoy the joy that competitive athletes bring into our lives.