Lausanne, Switzerland: One of the most enduring and endearing qualities of the Olympic Games is the sight of athletes from many of the world’s less developed nations not only competing but often winning against those from more well-heeled backgrounds.
The romantic notion is that total dedication and sheer talent is responsible for these tales of poverty to podium, but that is usually only half the story. What many outside the Olympic Movement are unaware of is the financial assistance given to such athletes through Olympic Solidarity.
Olympic Solidarity is responsible for a total budget of US$311 million for the 2009-2012 quadrennial plan which represents the NOC share of the TV revenue from the Olympic Games.
The budget for 2009-2012 is divided into three main pillars: World Programmes (US$134 million), Continental Programmes (US$122 million) and Olympic Games Subsidies (US$42 million).
Nearly half of the World Programmes budget is spent on projects that offer direct assistance to athletes, all with a view to qualifying for Olympic Games. These include Olympic Scholarships; Team Support Grants (giving financial assistance to one national team per NOC); Continental and Regional Games Athlete Preparation; and Youth Olympic Games (YOG) Athlete Preparation.
The YOG programme, which provides US$10 million in the current quadrennial for the identification, qualification and preparation of a small number of young athletes, played a big part in the success of the inaugural Summer YOG last year in Singapore, and will play a similar role in the run-up to the 1st Winter YOG in Innsbruck in 2012.
A good example of how the YOG “identify-qualify-prepare” programme worked in practice was Kyrgyzstan. In May 2010 its NOC organised a special “spartakiad” event to identify young talent. Athletes in boxing, wrestling, judo and athletics were then sent to qualifying tournaments and four of them qualified for the YOG, preparing beforehand at the national training camp. Three of them went on to win medals including wrestler Urmatbek Amatov, who won gold.
Perhaps the highest profile elements of Olympic Solidarity’s World Programmes are the Olympic Scholarships. Launched in 1992, they offer substantial assistance to elite international athletes nominated by their NOC, with particular emphasis on those of limited financial means.
A total of 81 medals were won at Beijing 2008 by Olympic Scholarship holders compared with 57 in Athens four years earlier. Among them were Abhinav Bindra (10m air rifle), who was the first Indian to win an individual Olympic gold medal and used the scholarship to train for two years at the USA’s national training centre in Colorado Springs; and Afghanistan’s first Olympic medallist, Rohullah Nikpai, who won bronze in the men’s under-58kg taekwondo competition. Olympic Solidarity worked closely with Afghan taekwondo athletes prior to Beijing, placing them in a number of training camps across the world.
The Continental Programmes are run by the Olympic Solidarity office within each Continental Association, allowing them to address specific issues for sports development on their continent. The major part of each continent’s budget is spent on direct financial support to the NOCs for the implementation of their own activities and programmes that fit with their specific objectives. In Asia, for example, the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) organises an Asian Games Fun Run, designed to spread the message of the Asian Games throughout Asia.
(This is an extract from an article on Olympic Solidarity from the latest edition of the IOC’s Olympic Review magazine. Read the complete article at www.olympic.org)