The goals have been scored, finish lines surpassed and champions crowned. The 2016 Rio Olympics have officially been sealed. The gaze of the world has now shifted towards Tokyo, the host of the Olympics in 2020. But as a ‘budding analyst’, I could not move on without offering my two cents about the final medal tally in Rio de Janeiro.
The official medal count gives statisticians, governments, sports fans, fortune tellers and geopolitical strategists alike an opportunity to delve into a set of dat to analyse and reach the most absurd conclusions on the fate and fortune of nations on the basis of their athletic achievements. Which countries shocked the world ? How does the Human Development Index standing affect a country’s count ? How did democratic countries perform in comparison to countries with autocratic regimes ? Did America beat Europe, Asia beat Africa ? There is and always has been something to be read into the number of bronze, silver and gold a country takes home.
Not surprisingly, the Rio Olympic were dominated by the United States, Great Britain and the Republic of China. Amongst themselves they shared 99 golds and 257 medals. All members of the G-8, except for Canada, emerged in the top ten medal winners at Rio. But what happens when we take other factors such as population size, GDP and relative spending on each medal by a country into account. What I’m going to analyse through the course of this article is if Olympic medals had monetary values how much would it cost each country to get them.
When we only consider population size, Bahamas dominated the Olympics. Their one gold medalist resulted in the average medal tally of the country per a million to be 2.6. If we take the per capita medal tally into account, then Grenada (not the one in Spain) emerges supreme with their one silver medalist which gave them approximately 9.4 medals per million of their population. Now, just to give you an idea of the scale of the figures I’m talking about let me inform you of the medal tally per million population of the three countries that were awarded the most medals. The United Kingdom has achieved 1 medal per million of their population, USA stands behind with a 0.4 medals per million and the People’s Republic of China has a mere 0.05 medals per million of their population.
Now more importantly, let us measure a country’s medal count taking it’s national output (GDP) into consideration. This leads to the emergence of a completely different picture from the final medal tally at the Rio Olympics. Surprisingly, developing economies have a much higher rate of efficiency than developed economies. For example, it cost Croatia, Jamaica, Georgia and Fiji much lesser to achieve a medal than it did industrialised countries of the G-8. Even Scandinavian countries ranked considerably lower than these developing countries when it came to efficiency.
In the actual medal tally it is quite clear that countries that are part of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) beat the countries termed by the World Bank as lower or middle class countries. Even if the top ten medal winning countries would not have been included, OECD countries nearly doubled the medal tally of their competitors.
But, in order to fixate upon the economic cost I took it one step further. GDP is the total output that a country produces and per capita GDP is therefore output divided by population. Amongst the various things it tells us, per capita GDP gives us an accurate measure of the level of individual economic output for a country. Further, when we divide a country’s per capita GDP by its medal count we reach the approximate individual output required by a country to produce one medal (assume all medals are worth the same in economic terms).
This table shows us that it costs approximately ₹9,194 of an individuals output to get a medal in Ethiopia. On the other hand Finland spent approximately ₹23,91,873 to obtain one medal. One way to interpret this data is in terms of economic efficiency. As the country get better at producing a good, it gets cheaper for them and their efficiency increases. In this case, the good is Olympic medals and clearly developing countries produce them at lower costs. For instance if Finland was as efficient as Ethiopia, they would have collected approximately 260 medals in the recently concluded Olympics. This tells us though how ‘developing’ countries are more efficient that developed countries out on the sports field.
There are a number of other factors that can influence the Olympic medal count which subsequently raises a number of important question about the countries. For instance, is there any correlation between Human Development Index and medals accumulated ? Is there a constant trend between per capita GDP and metals obtained ? What do countries with similar efficiencies in obtaining medals have in common ? And of course, what are the population and economic determinants of success in medals, if there are any ?
I think it doesn’t need to be said that all of this must be taken with a pinch of salt. We cannot conclusively say that these countries allocate a higher percentage of their resources in order to obtain Olympic medals. The only thing we can conclusively say is that we cannot criticise economic models on the basis of how fast can someone cross a finish line.