PHILADELPHIA, Pennsylvania — While the Olympics may still be dominated by countries like the United States, China and Great Britain, throughout the multi-week tournament, many countries, big and small, impoverished and wealthy, have a chance to showcase their talents in all sorts of events. Throughout the Tokyo Olympics, many smaller, lesser-known, lower-income countries made history, earning their first medals in sports across the athletic spectrum. In weight lifting, Filipino Hidilyn Diaz won her country’s first-ever gold medal. In fencing, Edgar Cheung Ka-long earned Hong Kong’s first-ever gold medal. Exciting and inspiring wins like these can do more than invigorate a country and an athletic community: Olympic success reduces poverty in the most vulnerable areas of a winner’s home country.
Recognized Athletes Gain Attention and Give Back
When an athlete does the unexpected, making waves for their country on the international stage by winning a gold medal or breaking a world record, the athlete garners international attention and recognition for their efforts. With enough attention, the athlete can easily earn sponsorships, ambassadorships and bank large sums of money as a successful, world-recognized athlete. When athletes choose to use this success to elevate their home countries and local communities, Olympic success translates directly to community growth and poverty reduction.
While cases of an athlete gaining international attention and commercial success are fairly rare, there are many notable examples of athletes who made it big on the world stage, going on to uplift their communities with their extensive earnings. One of these most impressive cases involves Jamaican runner Usain Bolt, known internationally “as the fastest man alive.”
From his winnings, sponsorships and ambassadorships, Bolt has made a name for himself as a wealthy athlete, raking in $31million in 2017 and ranking 45th on a Forbes Magazine list of the 100 wealthiest athletes globally in 2018. Despite his earnings now, Bolt grew up in a small town in Jamaica. Bolt committed to giving back to his country and his community, using his status and money to empower young Jamaicans, 19.3% of whom lived in poverty in 2017.
His charity organization, the Usain Bolt Foundation is committed to the “creation of opportunities through education and cultural development for a positive change.” With the Usain Bolt Foundation, Bolt has donated millions to Jamaican schools in the form of laptops, sports equipment and school supplies. Bolt’s donations increase educational opportunities and offer underprivileged Jamaican students a chance to do more and achieve more. Bolt’s charity, a result of his Olympic success, reduces poverty in his home country.
Recognized Athletes Increase International Awareness
By advertising their charities, donations and community work on the world stage, Athletes like Bolt can garner international attention for their cause and the issues plaguing their home countries. Ethiopian distance runner and three-time gold medal winner Tirunesh Dibaba uses her platform and recognition to bring awareness to the issues in her home country. In 2018, as an ambassador for the German organization Menschen für Menschen, Dibaba supported the construction of primary schools in Ethiopia. She used her social media to get the word out, urging supporters to donate and offering up her winning marathon shoes as a potential prize. Aid increases with awareness and advocacy. Bolt and Dibaba’s work opened up opportunities for more awareness, more aid and more chances to see firsthand how Olympic success reduces poverty.
Current Winners Inspire Future Winners
While smaller, more poverty-stricken countries are not quite ready to overtake the larger, wealthier countries on the Olympic stage, success in niche categories and specific areas increase a home country’s commitment to maintaining said industry and incentivizing children to take up the sport. For example, while Mongolia has not had much Olympic success, the country has been extremely successful and dominant in weightlifting, winning 31 medals between 1952 and 1992.
Medals and success correlate to a continuous endowment of resources in the sport and have made Mongolia, comparatively, the most efficient producer of successful weightlifters in the world. By making a continued commitment to the sport, Mongolia has given its people an opportunity to reduce poverty within the country. Sports are an effective means of reducing poverty. Having a country and a youth population interested in sports can increase health benefits, foster social interaction and build stronger community relations. At higher levels of the sport, sports can grant communities and athletes the money and resources necessary to elevate themselves from poverty.
According to The Guardian, the primary reason why lower-income regions, such as Africa, perform less satisfactorily and secure fewer medals in the Olympics is a direct result of poverty. With less access to education, water, sanitation, food sources, sports facilities, it is no wonder countries with high poverty rates are less successful at the games than wealthier countries. Although lower-income countries face distinct disadvantages, with increased attention, awareness and funding from winning athletes, Olympic success can effectively reduce poverty in the countries that need it most.
– Zoe Tzanis