Athletics becomes first sport to award prize money at Olympics

Olympic champions to earn $50,000, end of 128-year tradition

By Reuters

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Gold medallist Elaine Thompson-Herah of Jamaica celebrates during the medal ceremony for the women's 200m event at the Tokyo Olympic Games. — AFP
Gold medallist Elaine Thompson-Herah of Jamaica celebrates during the medal ceremony for the women's 200m event at the Tokyo Olympic Games. — AFP

Published: Wed 10 Apr 2024, 8:27 PM

Athletics has become the first sport to offer prize money to Olympic champions, announcing on Wednesday that the 48 gold medallists in Paris this year will earn $50,000 each to end a 128-year tradition.

Although the concept of purely amateur competition has long since disappeared from the modern Olympics with athletes often receiving payments from sponsors and professionals taking part for years, the World Athletics (WA) decision is a major shift.


WA President Sebastian Coe said there had been no discussion with the International Olympic Committee, only that his organisation had given the IOC a heads-up shortly before announcing the $2.4 million prize pot.

"While it is impossible to put a marketable value on winning an Olympic medal, or on the commitment and focus it takes to even represent your country at an Olympic Games, it is important we make sure some of the revenues generated by our athletes are directly returned to those who make the Games the global spectacle that it is," Coe told reporters.


"I don't believe this is remotely at variance with the concept that the IOC often talks about, which is recognising the efforts that our competitors make for the overall success of the Games."

Norway's Olympic 400m hurdles champion Karsten Warholm welcomed the news.

"I think it's good so I want to salute them for it," he told Reuters. "It doesn't change my motivation to win because for the Olympics I'm not in it for the money. The gold medal is worth a lot more to me personally."

The IOC said it was up to each International Federation (IF) and National Olympic Committee (NOC) to determine how to best serve their athletes and the development of their sports.

"The IOC redistributes 90% of all its income, in particular to the NOCs and IFs. This means that, every day, the equivalent of $4.2 million goes to help athletes and sports organisations at all levels around the world," the ruling body said.

A total of $540 million was allocated to the 28 sports at the Tokyo Games with World Athletics receiving the most at $40 million.

The amateur ethos of the Olympics, severely undermined for decades by the success of state-sponsored competitors from the former Eastern Bloc, was swept away when the IOC agreed to allow professional athletes to compete in tennis, soccer and ice hockey at the 1988 Seoul Games.

Basketball followed in 1992 and superstar professionals from the NBA gained huge attention when coming together in the United States "Dream Team", with most other sports subsequently removing restrictions on professionals taking part.

Athletics is the Olympics’ biggest sport by number of participants and TV audiences but the vast majority of athletes, including many medallists, face a constant struggle for funding.

Olympic silver and bronze medallists in athletics will also receive prize money, but only from the 2028 Los Angeles Games.

Coe, who won 1,500 metres gold medals at the 1980 and 1984 Games, rejected the idea the new plan would undermine any amateur ethic.

"I'm probably the last generation to have been on the 75p meal voucher and a second class rail ticket when competing for my own country," the 67-year-old Briton said.

"So, I do understand the nature of the transition we've been in. It is a completely different planet from when I was competing," Coe added.

"I want young athletes to look at our sport and think that this is financially viable for them. For many, and for too long, it hasn't been and that's what I'm now addressing."

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