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Olympic Games as development index Back To Main


Business Day Online

The Olympic Games, no doubt, is the highest sporting competition in the world, but the hosting right awarded to Brazil’s Rio De Janeiro (2016) and Pyeongchang in the Gangwon province of South Korea has triggered a chain of thought on the role of a nation’s economic status in the Olympics, whether as medals winner or host country.

Now this observation has prompted many analysts to see the Olympic Games as an economic growth indicator or a development index. For a start, a gold winner is the best in the world in that specific event. Winning a gold medal requires huge talent, planning, training, and coordination. Countries gifted with these attributes win medals, not only in the Olympics but also in other arenas of global contests, especially in the economic field of play.
An unbiased evaluation of the Olympic Medals Table in the past 30 years shows the dominance of the group of eight industrialised nations, popularly referred to as the G-8, in the top 10 on medals table. The G-8 nations include the US, the UK, Russia, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and Canada. These nations are also regarded as the developed economies of the world.

Worthy of note also is the fact that the five permanent members of the Security Council of the United Nations form the nucleus of the G-8. They include China, France, Russia, the UK and the USA. Furthermore, the hosting rights are largely awarded to the continents of Europe and North America, and anytime the hosting is granted a nation outside the shores of Europe and North America, experience has shown that an emerging economy might have been identified by the organisers, the International Olympic Committee (IOC). This group is dominated by the Asian Tigers where China, Japan, North and South Korea belong.

Similarly, since after World Wars I and II, it appears the Olympics is the next world war where the super economies test their powers. The dominance of these nations among the top 10 countries on the medals table in the past 30 years is a testament to the fact that the Olympics is not just a sporting arena.

These developed economies are closely followed on the medals table by the bailed out economies of Greece, Portugal and Spain, before the third world economies where Africa belongs. South Africa, the largest economy in Africa, led the continent on the London 2012 Olympic Games Medals Table.

Some senior academics have given a deep thought on this. Willy Okowa, a professor of Development Economics at the University of Port Harcourt, said: “Those societies that have huge economic output, such as USA, China, Japan, have behind their economic success organisation and proper administration of resources” and that strong institutions were needed to drive economic growth that in turn translates to Olympics prowess.

In his submission, Ben Naanen, a professor of Economic History also at UNIPORT, described the Olympics Games as a “theatre of social war and any nation participating in Olympic Games must participate with the spirit of war.” And for Hyacinth Amakiri Ajie, a senior lecturer in Economics, “Performance at the Olympic Games reflects the state of economy.”

Unfortunately, poor organisation, weak institutions, poor funding of sporting events as well as lack of good governance have caused many African athletes to seek greener pastures in Europe, USA, Canada and the Caribbean. Nigeria’s Christiana Ohurongwu and Mo Farrah of Somali represented Great Britain and won laurels for them, while some Cameroonians and athletes from Democratic Republic of Congo defected during the London 2012 Summer Games. Funny enough, the poor performance of African countries and defection of African athletes seemed to justify the extreme views of some Europeans on Africa.

This is why in the affairs of nations, the Olympic Games is largely considered by Afro-centric scholars as an avenue for Africa to prove Euro-centric scholars wrong. Thus, Nigeria’s dismal performance at the just concluded London 2012 Olympic Games remains a sad commentary. The winning of six gold, five silver and two bronze medals at the recently concluded 2012 Paralympics, therefore, is a worthy consolation indeed. Accordingly, President Goodluck Jonathan has rewarded the Paralympians with millions of naira and some with the National Award.

In other African countries, victorious athletes at the Olympic Games received similar cash awards and accolade, while some athletes have won various endorsements which will translate into the improvement of their economic status. The London debacle has also angered the president into ordering for an immediate action on both facilities and administration, including a sports summit. This is absolutely necessary because Nigeria as a nation cannot fail in security of lives and property, education, good governance and electricity supply and do well alone at the Olympic Games. It is not realistic.

Measures must be taken to turn the table because the bottom line is good organisation. Nigerians expect much from the proposed summit, and whatever plan of action is agreed upon must be implemented to the letter. This is the only way to show that Nigerians, and indeed Africans, must not have to move to Europe and the USA to excel in any field of endeavour.