Eleven Deep Thoughts on World Athletics Providing $50k prize money for Olympic Track & Field Gold

1. On April 11, World Athletics announced in a news release that it would be the first global sports federation to provide prize money for each Olympic gold medal in track and field, beginning in Paris 2024. The Prize money announced was $50,000 US.

2. Seb Coe then held a day of media meetings with key media worldwide. One of his last groups was the specific global track geek crowd: LetsRun, Track & Field News, Runners World, Athletics Weekly, and RunBlogRun. In this media, we were allowed questions only regarding the Olympic prize money announcement.

3. This writer asked Seb Coe how he thought the IOC would respond to this obvious shot across the bow of the Olympic ship. Seb Coe, President of World Athletics, told us, in a performance worthy of an Academy Award, that Thomas Bach, President of the IOC, encourages the sports federations to
forge their own paths in their own sports. I am convinced then, as I am now, that Seb Coe knew that the IOC would lose their complete minds over this announcement.

4. Several media sources note that Thomas Bach was warned about one hour on Seb Coe’s press day. We are told that Bach was with President Macron of France, oohing and aahing at the new Olympic venues. Bach did not come out negative immediately; he built to being truly annoyed.

5. A few weeks later, Thomas Bach and the Association of International Summer Sports Federations, hiding behind the Olympic ideal of Amateurism, attempted to show that providing money lowered the value of an Olympic medal because it put a price on the medal. Thomas Bach came out and did not support the Olympic prize money announcement by World Athletics.

6. Seb Coe was quite careful in his April 11 announcement. Coe is only second to the incomparable Steve Jobs, who used to take hours for every minute of a talk. Seb Coe told the media on April 11 that, in his earlier days as an athlete, he might not have supported this Olympic prize money, but that he now, as a season global athletics leader,  thought that it was a beginning in providing some compensation for the long 12-15-year journey as an athlete builds to Olympic level.

7. RunBlogRun, as a public service, will provide a brief history lesson on the wonderful world of Amateurism. Baron Pierre de Coubertin was the founder of the modern Olympic movement. De Coubertin disliked women’s sports immensely and saw Amateurism as a way to protect the ideal of sports, something done with much energy and emotion but not overly trained for. Amateurism kept working-class and middle-class people out of Olympic sports because most people needed to work to live. Baron Pierre De Coubertin was a strong supporter of physical education and saw the professionalization of the Olympic sports in Ancient Greece, which he romanticized, lead to the corruption of the Olympics. De Coubertin wanted the various social classes to have sports; he did not want those athletes to compete against those outside their social class. Focusing on an Olympic sport was tough unless one was in a country’s military or had a family with deep pockets. Jim Thorpe won the decathlon and pentathlon in Stockholm 1912. His Olympic medals were taken away from him due to the $3 a day he took playing semi-pro baseball! Amateurism kept the working class, middle class, and especially people of color out of sports.

Baron Pierre De Coubertin, founder of the modern Olympic movement, photo courtesy of Wikipedia, public domain.

8. Money does change sports. I believe Money in sports and nationalism are two of the key causes of doping in sports. I am also happy that some track athletes can make a modest living (some more than modest, but most modest) from our sport in my lifetime. Sports is the global language, and Olympic sports are the most popular group of sports on the planet. Nearly 7 billion people, it is estimated, will see some portion of the Paris 2024 Olympics this summer via TV, web, phones, and even something as old-fashioned as radio!

9. In my analysis, Seb Coe did the right thing, providing Olympic sports money for gold medals (silver and bronze will get prize money in LA 2028). I am curious if any other federation will join WA. Ed Warner, former UK Athletics director, noted recently that if Thomas Bach provided $50k US to all 539 Olympic gold medals up for grabs in Paris 2024, it would cost close to $100 million. Seb Coe is using $2.4 million to provide gold medalists in Olympic track and field events a $50,000 US award.

10. Money is not everything. But consider this: families and friends who support the Olympic-driven athletes by the thousands, and 1600 of them will get medals in the Summer Olympic event this summer. Seb Coe offering WA money for gold medalists is just the beginning of a long fight to provide some compensation for the Olympic build-up to Paris. Considering that 5 billion US dollars is paid for Olympic television sponsorship, this idea of providing money to Olympic gold medalists makes some sense, just not to Thomas Bach.

11. Not just RunBlogRun supports Seb Coe’s move. Many media organizations have made positive comments on the prize money for Olympic gold. We asked Max Siegel, CEO of USA Track & Field, for these thoughts. Max gives great quotes, and this is a perfect way to end this column:

“USATF is proud that our International Federation is the first to introduce prize money for Paris 2024 Olympic Games gold medalists. World Athletics’ historic decision demonstrates how our sport always looks to innovate and support athletes. We look forward to seeing this initiative expanded for the LA28 Olympic Games.”

Enough said for today.