Million-dollar question: Olympic gold’s true value

The emotional rewards associated with the honour of representing your country at an Olympics are unimaginable. However the recent announcement by athletes such as Roger Federer, Serena Willaims, Ben Simmons and Nick Kyrgios to officially withdraw from the Tokyo Olympics has got me thinking about the potential financial gains, or sacrifices in Kyrgios’ particular case.

What is it really worth for an athlete to attend the Olympics? How much does winning a medal change their ability to commercialise themselves? And importantly, should professional sports – such as soccer, golf and tennis that already attract significant revenue and profit – really be part of an Olympic Games?

When I think about the athletes around the world who have had notable financial success, almost always I can see a direct link between their ‘on-field’ success and their ‘off field’ business acumen.

Take Federer for example. Latest stats show he is ranked the seventh richest athlete in the world. This is despite being out of commission for much of last year with a knee injury. In fact, 100 per cent of the Fed’s $90 million in earnings in the 12 months to May 21 (per Forbes) was from sponsorship deals with brands like Rolex, Credit Suisse and Uniqlo.

So when you think about the national and global profile opportunities that an event like the Olympics offers athletes, there is certainly more than a medal and national pride at stake.

In fact, when I think about Australian athletes who have attended the Olympics or won medals, the flow-on impacts to their commercial success and financial heft, or their ability to sell their personal brand, are astronomical.

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Don’t get me wrong, the pure joy of winning a medal after years of hard work and toil is the primary focus. But it would be folly to suggest athletes just like the competition and don’t realise what winning a gold medal could mean commercially for them.

That said, the Olympics don’t make it easy for athletes to commercialise themselves during the Games due to protecting official Olympic sponsors. They’ve relaxed some of these rules, but further relaxing would help amateur athletes make financial gains from the event, which for most of them is their key exposure period that happens every four years (if they’re lucky enough to make multiple Olympic Games).

Considering that up until the last few decades Olympics were only open to amateur sports people – which is why we didn’t have a ‘Dream Team’ until 1992 because it was only college basketball players until that point – this then really begs the question of why professional sports are part of the Olympics?

Do we want to see the best of the best or the best of the rest; the non-professionals? Should we be reserving this exposure opportunity for athletes who live for this opportunity as their core event? Also, where does the line get drawn? Field hockey players play professionally in Europe on a modest income – should they be allowed to compete?

It’s complicated, but I wonder why, after all this waiting for the Games to actually happen, we are all let down when ‘big name’ athletes pull out on the eve of the Games. And should they even be considered?

** Matthew Pavlich is a Nine sports presenter and co-founder of Pickstar

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