Preparing for Rio 2016: The Financial Challenges

Recent reports that the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (SASCOC) is looking for R100 million for preparations of the country’s national team for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games made very interesting reading. 


R100million is no small change by any standards. Other national sports authorities in the region could actually get the same amount as their operational budget over the next   10-15 years. Financing elite sport is not easy. When a nation makes a decision to compete and not participate, there is a vast difference in terms of approach and investments. Many Southern African countries will fill planes going to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil next year but the big question remains, “What are they really going there to do?”

Some National Olympic Committees (NOCs) and sports authorities hide behind the International Olympic Committee (IOC)’s principles of universality and diversity whereby all countries regardless of track record and performances, are encouraged to send teams to the Olympic Games. Indeed no one can question the nobility of the principles of the IOC and the Olympic Movement but national sports authorities need to be brutally honest with themselves. They should not waste public funds travelling to the Olympic Games simply to be seen at the opening and closing ceremonies.

It is better to invest such funds in development programmes which give the country a realistic shot at a medal in the future. Obviously, not everyone can win but competition should be meaningful in order to justify expenditure of critically limited funds.  There is no use, for example, for a country to send swimmers to the Olympic Games who will just participate in the first round of heats. 

In some instances, the swimmers are still in the water when fellow competitors have long since finished and are making their way to the changing rooms. Such athletes are not competing at all, they are just participating in the event. They remain as tourists after their very brief encounter with the games, courtesy of games accreditation which enables them to stay for the duration of the games waiting for the closing ceremonies.

When confronted with the above-mentioned scenario, sports leaders become very defensive and point to the exposure that athletes from less developed countries get through rubbing shoulders with the greatest sports persons on Planet Earth. If a 100m sprinter is running the event at 12-13 seconds, it might seem actually like fraudulent activity sending such an athlete to the games, even if the IOC states that the athlete qualifies through the “B” standard or universality entry. 

An athlete of that dismal level of performance will still be on the track running whilst Usain Bolt is already getting tired of celebrating his victory in that particular heat,  provided that , Bolt  even runs  in such preliminary events. In far less than 10 seconds Usain Bolt and company will have finished the race. These guys are now so fast such that if you just blink and open your eyes seconds later the race is finished.

It is therefore better to invest money in sending the young and promising athlete, maybe, Joao from Angola, Mario from Mozambique, Tshepo from Lesotho, Kalusha from Zambia or Tendai from Zimbabwe to a High Performance Centre in South Africa or somewhere in his own country where he can properly train to challenge for honours in the future. 

Developing a world class athlete does not happen overnight. Sports scientists aver that it takes 7-8 years to develop a world class competitor in any sport. If an athlete has never been ranked in the top 20 in the world at junior or senior level, it is very unrealistic to expect the athlete to reach the quarter finals, semis, the final, let alone win a medal at the Olympic Games.

Does this mean that countries should forget about sending teams to the Olympic Games? No, absolutely not! It just means that countries should have realistic expectations about their athletes and teams. 

They should not pressurize the naïve as well as young boys and girls into thinking that they are going to swim faster than Michael Phelps, Kirsty Coventry and Chad le Clos, or run faster than Usain Bolt in Rio de Janeiro. They must tell the kids to go and enjoy the Olympic experience, learn from it and come back with their own performance targets to really compete at the next games.

The Southern Times Sports Forum wishes SASCOC all the very best of luck and success in mobilizing R100million for the Rio 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games. Other sports authorities in the region should equally be ambitious. Of course, very few of them will get anything near a tenth of what SASCOC is looking for. 

However, as the elders say; “It is not the size of the dog but the size of the fight in the dog that matters”. Funds are needed but it is not all about money. It is about how well the NOC utilizes the limited resources available, including Olympic Solidarity support, to ensure best possible preparations and results. 

The one year count-down to the Rio 2016 Games is fast approaching and for some of the countries, the chances of a medal are increasing or decreasing very fast. We can only pray that preparations for Southern African countries go well!

April 2015
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