The purpose of this research on compensation of Canadian Olympic athletes is to determine how athletes that represent Canada on the National level are compensated and rewarded for the time they put in to their rigorous training to prepare for an event once every four years. Professional athletes in leagues such as the National Basketball Association, the National Hockey League and Major League Baseball are obviously compensated with a large salary to justify all the time they spend preparing for their respective sports; but Olympic athletes are expected to perform at an equally high level if not higher.
The question is how are they able to afford putting in all the training hours and preparation time as well as maintaining diets without a provided salary to do that.
Canada has been participating in the Olympic Games for over one hundred years but the reality is that the effort and focus on preparation for the games has come a long way since the early 1900’s.
There was a major shift in focus on training and preparation in the recent decades and again the question of how the athletes have been able to support making that shift financially over the years. A comparison between the countries that were dominant in recent Olympics and the compensation they offer their athletes would show if there is interdependence between how the athletes perform and how they are compensated for their work.
An article entitled Canada’s Olympic Athletes Have Regular Jobs, Too was very insightful because it provided a good description of how some of Canada’s Olympic athletes really live.
It talks about athletes having to balance an ordinary career with being a high level athlete. The article was especially valuable because it provided personal examples from various Olympians and even how the experiences have changed from time. Olympic Athletes: The Sponsorship Behind The Athletes was an article that presented a form of compensation for athletes far different than the first. This article talks about athletes receiving endorsements and corporate sponsorships to supplement the cost of all the time they put into preparing for the Olympics. It also explains the transition the Olympics underwent from being strictly an amateur competition to allowing professionals to participate which had a major influence on the increasing compensation for the athletes.
The book Not Just A Game: Essays in Sports Sociology further explained some of the rule changes made by the International Olympic Committee around that time and more specifically how they affected the Canadian Athletes. It talked about how the Canadian Olympic Committee reacted to the rule changes and early forms of compensation for the athletes that began after them. The Canadian Olympic Committee Annual Report was good because it provided information about how Canadian athletes are being financially compensated currently. The report details the forms of support through rewards and monetary grant the COC provides and what makes an athlete eligible.
When the modern day Olympic Games began, the level of competition displayed by the athletes is hard to compare to what they are capable of now. The Games began with the vision of France’s Pierre de Coubertin, who sought a pristine, apolitical arena where “amateur” athletes participate in clean, honest competition and celebrate human achievement (Lucas, A.J. 1992). The idea was that any single person could one day participate in the Olympics if they had that desire, the concept of a fair chance for everyone. With this being the case compensation was never an issue, it was even prohibited since the athletes were participating under the amateur title. This standard for the athletes held up for many years; however in 1952 when the Soviet Union and a large group of communist countries entered the Olympics they provided a new standard for the athletes. The countries provided the athletes with the support they needed to train as professionals while maintaining and competing at the amateur level (Lucas, A.J. 1992).
Around this same time new advancements in training methods were creating a trend in increasing the focus on preparation for athletes. In the early 60’s exercise machines were first introduced into many gyms providing a level of functionality and efficiency many athletes had not seen before. The 1970’s saw a big increase in weightlifting popularity that was becoming increasingly visible in professional sports athletes and the Olympic athletes that were being compensated by their countries (Shepherd, J. 2006). There was a large discrepancy in the level of athletes competing in the Games for a couple decades after the Soviet’s entered. This trend in increasing the preparation and physical training amongst athletes that was being seen was a leading factor for the rule change that made compensation for Olympic Athletes a possibility. The athletes from other countries needed to follow suit to keep up and they needed support to make that happen.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) is a non-profit, non-governmental organization that oversees the Olympic Games. They are in charge of the rules and regulations that are set for the Olympic standards (IOC, 2012). In response to the trend in the increasing time devoted to training for athletes the IOC made some necessary revisions to the rules that finally allowed athletes to be compensated for the time they devote to their sport. In 1971 the IOC began a series of rule changes stating you no longer had to be an amateur to participate in the Games. Several revisions later in 1986 professional athletes from around the world were now permitted to participate as well. These were major changes for the Olympics because it now allowed countries to support their athletes however they felt fit (Olson, E. 2007).
Many countries offered compensation for the time athletes spent away from work weather it was training or competitions; sponsorships and endorsement deals also became popular for Olympic athletes around this time. Allowing countries to provide financial support for their athletes can be seen as a catalyst for improving the performance displayed at the Games. It provides athletes with the possibility of focusing on their sport and preparing for the Olympics rather than having to stress about everyday financial issues. Canada noticed the trend leading towards more and more countries offering compensation and benefits to their Olympic athletes for the time they put in to represent them on the national scale and got on board. In 1994 the International Olympic Committee made a fundamental change to the eligibility rules and allowed for athletes to receive lost-income compensation (Harvey, J., & Cantelon, H. 1988).
This was vital for athletes that were raising families and surviving on regular jobs while at the same time competing. This allowed them to focus more on the training and being an athlete knowing the compensation will be worked out. That following year the Canadian Olympic Committee received big outreach from its athletes hoping for an assistance program of that sort. The call from the athletes was answered in that same year and Canada had taken its first steps in providing a compensation plan for its international athletes (Harvey, J., & Cantelon, H. 1988). Canada has come a long way in providing financial support for their athletes since the days of first adopting the lost-income compensation style. The Canadian Olympic Committee is a national leader in fundraising for athletes, coaches and sports (Canadian Olympic Committee. 2010). It recognizes that financial support is crucial for athletes to continue to train and be successful when they compete.
Through events like the Canadian Olympic Hall of Fame Gala, Canadian Olympic Foundation and the Canadian Olympic Golf Tournament the organization was able to raise $1,825,000 in the year 2010 which was all redistributed to the athletes through the Canadian Olympic Committee Athlete Excellence Fund (Canadian Olympic Committee. 2010). AEF is a program put in place to offer support throughout training and reward athletes who perform well at the Games. In non Olympic years the fund offers grants of $5, 000 for athletes in training that show promise in their discipline. The fund also offers cash benefits of $20,000, $15,000, and $10,000 for winning an Olympic gold, silver or bronze medal (Canadian Olympic Committee. 2010). The trend of increasing compensation of Olympic athletes started in the ‘60s and ‘70s and continues to evolve and grow as the athletes training methods and time devoted to training intensify as well. This trend can be seen directly with Canada’s involvement in the topic and how the support they offered in 1995 for lost-income compensation has grown to the Athlete Excellence Fund the Canadian Olympic Committee offers today.
Although the compensation and support increases to grow the truth remains that many Canadian Olympic Athletes are not compensated for their efforts to the point that they can be purely highly competitive athletes. Many Canadian Olympians struggle to balance an everyday working life with the stresses and pressures of being a world class athlete. The rewards and financial support the AEF offers helps bridge the gap between the two different lifestyles but the conflict remains. Jon Montgomery is a sled racer ranked number two in the world, yet while he trains to compete at the Olympics during the day he then works as a Sales Consultant/ Automobile Auctioneer in the evening (Monster Career Coach. (2013). Jon dedicates the majority of his day to training but still needs to devote a part of his day to making sure he can support his training. Another example of this struggle for balance is Jacquie Armstrong. Jacquie was on the Olympic Curling team and outside of sport made her money as a professional in software development. When she finishes working her job Jacquie ads another 20 hours a week in training; that includes everything from strength training to on ice practice (Monster Career Coach. 2013).
A flexible work schedule and some extra financial help to support all the training are very important for many Canadian Olympic athletes trying to stay competitive and earn a living today. The compensation plan may not be perfect but stays true to the trend of these plans improving and becoming more supportive to the athletes. Marie-France Dubreuil was a gold medal ice skater at the Canadian National Championships in ‘04, ‘05, ‘06 and ’07. Marie-France noted early in her career when she worked at a skating boutique, a convenience store and a skating rink in a addition to training about 25 hours a week leaving her only about 4 hours of sleep a night (Monster Career Coach. 2013). As she progressed through her career the compensation plan Canada offered progressed with her allowing her to focus more on the skating. Marie-France was able to focus more on the training and practice aspect of her life later in her career because she received funding from Skate Canada, prize money from winning competitions and revenue from skating shows that relieved the financial stress normally solved by a job (Monster Career Coach. 2013).
Through the Athlete Excellence Fund and other support programs offered by the Canadian Olympic Committee and even Sport Canada (a part of our federal government’s Department of Heritage) the athletes in Canada have been increasingly able to devote more time of their lives to training and less time having to worry about finances. There are many athletes from other countries that place their training as a number one priority and fully engulf themselves in their sport because their expenses for doing so are covered by the country. When this is not the case like in Canada and there isn’t complete funding from the country many athletes take matters into their own hands and find funding on their own. It has been becoming increasingly popular for Canadian Olympic athletes to find compensation through product endorsement, working as public speakers, private donors and even corporate sponsorships (Monster Career Coach. 2013).
Product endorsements and corporate sponsors work in a similar way and usually involve an athlete providing advertising and exposure for a company and then that company compensating the athlete for that (Olson, E. 2007). This is extremely popular among brands dealing with sports and active lifestyles like Nike and Gatorade for example. Although this is an emerging trend in Canada it is one that has long existed in the United States and is one of the biggest ways their Olympic athletes are compensated. For a country that dominates the Olympics every year the United States offers a reward for winning medals that comparably looks very small next to Italy’s $182, 400 and Russia’s $135,000 payouts (Caruso-Cabrera, M. 2012). The reason is because many of their athletes are compensated through endorsements and sponsorships allowing them earn in most cases well over those amounts just not directly from their country. In the last summer Olympic Games out of the top ten highest earning Olympic Athletes, five of them were American (Badenhausen, K. 2012).
They all happened to be athletes that have multiple endorsement deals with big athletic companies. This is a strategy that has worked very well for the Americans at the Olympics and explains why they do so well. In analysing the medal totals from the past six Olympic Games it is very clear that the countries that compensate their athletes get the best results. Russia, the United States, Great Britain and China are the four countries that consistently finished at the top of the medal count (Top end sports: The Sport + Science Resource. 2013). The United States as mentioned only rewards its athletes with a maximum of $25,000 for a gold medal (Caruso-Cabrera, M. 2012), however with the lucrative endorsement deals and sponsorships offered to the athletes they can still afford to train like professionals and devote themselves to the sport. Russia is always competitive and pushing for gold medals and the reason for that could be because of the $135,000 they offer their athletes as a reward for coming home with gold (Caruso-Cabrera, M. (2012).
China takes their Olympic performance very seriously and puts a tremendous amount of pressure on their athletes, when they perform well for their nation they are rewarded with a cash prize of $200,000 to compensate them for the pressure they had to deal with (Taylor, A. (2012). Lastly Great Britain also offers a compensation plan for its athletes that give them the freedom to train at a world class pace. They operate with a Performance Director that keeps track of all the athletes who are training and is responsible for providing them with support if need be. This ‘in-kind’ of support for an Olympic level athlete is around $84,000 annually as well as the $41,000 they offer for medaling at the event (How The Funding Works. 2013). Analyzing how these four countries support their Olympic athletes and comparing it to the number of medals they consistently win points to a trend between athlete performance and how they are compensated.
The fact is that in the ‘60s and early ‘70s when weightlifting and training were making major advancements that were proving to be extremely beneficial to athletes; the word athlete was redefined. There was a push towards spending more time preparing the body and learning new techniques to be successful in competition. With this came a push for countries to support their athletes and ensure they can do this at the highest level possible. A few short decades later we can see where this trend has come and how strong the relationship is between properly compensating an athlete and their performance. Making sure athletes are financially stable enough to focus on the rigors of staying competitive seem to have a direct correlation on how well those athletes then represent their country.
General Implications and Insight
The biggest and most prevalent trend was the increase in athlete training and the emergence of compensation plans countries offered their athletes. Olympic athlete compensation and the increased awareness of training are to issues that seemed to become evident at the same time. Advances in technologies and new weightlifting philosophies that emerged in that time period provided athletes the push they needed to take the next step in their sports. The results the athletes received were positive and caused the field of sports training to continue to grow and evolve to what there is today. The trend is that as the training intensified and required more of a commitment, the compensation required to make the training possible had to intensify also. Athletes did not have time to prepare like the top competitors while they were working full time jobs, and they could not afford to prepare if they did not work. This is where the compensation plan emerged and the first steps to finding a suitable solution were taken.
In a country like Canada where there is a program to help support the athletes, however it is not enough to depend on fully a solution in the middle has to be found. Giving the athletes compensation for training is an important aspect of the plan, it reimburses them for the time they spent getting ready. The question at hand is how a country decides what an appropriate amount is. Much goes into being an Olympic athlete and having to balance a regular work life on top of that is a lot of pressure. The answers isn’t necessarily that the athletes should be wealthy and have full financial support of the country; however a compensation plan that supports athletes to the point where their training isn’t limited completely by a work schedule is important. The benefits of being an Olympic athlete should still outweigh the drawbacks. The compensation of these athletes has come a long way and is on a good track to continue to evolve with the times and trends of modern sport.
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