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Decoding trends of past Olympics, but is there a winning formula?

Posted: 30 Sep 2016

Rio 2016


Welcome to this week's guest post from Daljeet Kaur, Associate Director, and Divyani Diddi, Research Assistant, from IPE Global, India. Here they look at some of the numbers behind this summer's Olympic Games.


The world witnessed another glorious global sporting event through the Rio Olympics 2016. More than 11,000 athletes from 207 Nations competed in 31 sports with 306 sets of medals awarded in the 24th Summer Olympics. The event took place at 33 venues in the host city of Rio and at five in São Paulo, Belo Horizonte, Salvador, Brasília, and Manaus. India got 2 medals in their kitty this time. While we were ecstatic with the performances of PV Sindhu, Sakshi Malik and Dipa Karmakar there was a nagging feeling throughout the 16 days of Rio 2016, in the minds of many. A country of 1.3 billion, represented by 109 sportspersons in Rio 2016, won 2 medals. The women made us proud but compelled us to review our country’s strategy in producing winners.

The article below probes at key determinants of success for the top 5 countries and what India needs to do, to catch up to the double digit winning numeric.

Mapping Trends


United States – Private Investment in Sports

Athletes from the US depend largely on private funding. More than 100 US athletes started individual funding portals for donations from the general public. Only 10 percent of the US Olympic committee’s finances are actually spent on athletes, stated by the Guardian report that talks about the financial struggles of many Olympians. Every year, the United States Olympic Committee gives out about $50 million to more than 40 national sport federations to help athletes in their medal quests. With both public and private funding, US has ensured its place in the top two for several consecutive events.

United Kingdom – Focus on Potential Winners

The country spends $1.5 billion (Rs 90 billion) on sports infrastructure and training through an annual sports budget. In addition, UK Sport spent about $350 million on Olympics preparation over four years (2013-2017). The Independent recently stated that two thirds of UK Sport’s money goes to specially selected 14-25 year olds – the winners of the next decade and the 2024 Olympics – along with funding an elite group of “podium level athletes”.

China – Centralised Training Facilities

One of the key factors for China to excel in Olympics is to have a Centralised Training Program with High Government Support & Funding. The Chinese government have a heavily funded and centralized top-down training model; with the one goal to achieve Olympic Gold. With around 5000 sports schools, Chinese Olympic program is strategic and well planned.

India – Inadequate Investment

India spends a third of UK, or $500 million (Rs 32 billion) on youth affairs and sports through the union budget and the states, despite having 20 times more population. Rs 7500 million ($107 million) are given through sport-specific federations, training centres, coaches and other infrastructure and Rs 227 million ($3.2 million), through NSDF – National Sports Development Fund (to 109 athletes) as well as Rs 380 million ($5.4 million) thought the TOP – Target Olympic Podium programme (to 97 athletes for 2016 Olympics, excluding para Olympic athletes).

Source: First Post (2016)

A Winning Formula?


If we review the medal tally of the top five countries and their performances over the last few Olympic events, will we get a definite recipe for winning?

For the second successive games, and the 17th time overall, United States topped the overall medal table and golds. Is there a formula for success that the US and other countries in the top 5 seem to be following?

Comparing the top five countries who have performed well in the last 16 years


Where United States and Great Britain have seen a steady growth in the number of medals won at the last three Olympics, China and Russia have both registered a decline in their respective medal counts from the previous games. One reason for rising or falling performance standards can be the economic or political instability suffered by the particular country such as in the case of Russia and China.

However, the question remains - Is there a winning recipe? What is common between the top five countries who are consistent with their results in the Olympics – Democracy, Development, Economic Growth, Political stability, Demography or sheer Number of participants? The total number of participants in Rio 2016 from all the top 5 countries were above 300. Economic prosperity is another common factor in the top 5, however countries with higher GDP have not shown consistency in winning medals at theOlympics.

Image and data source: BBC "Rio 2016 Olympics: Just how Great were Britain?"

Not that Complicated – Invest in Sports!


The only other important commonality amongst these nations is the commitment of their governments, players and citizens to maximise their probability of winning. The amount spent on shaping players, trainers and facilities by winning nations shows the government’s keenness towards promoting a holistic sporting culture in the country. India needs to follow their footsteps by re-examining their strategy towards nurturing sports related talent.

A comprehensive Sports Plan encompassing financial security, access to quality infrastructure, dedicated coaches, and scholarships for athletes needs to be in place to encourage new and bright young talent in sports. Learning from the example of the United States where private investment in sports has enables them to sustain their impressive track record at the Olympics, there is an immense opportunity for the private sector in India as well. If financing sports can be brought under CSR the funds can be channeled towards creating a cadre of well trained, motivated and shining sportswomen and sportsmen who will not only bring glory to the country but also act as role models for the youngest ever population of India.

Players are not born winners…they are trained from an early age to become legends.