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Jonathan Edwards: Prize money simply has no place at the Olympics

By // Sports | Jonathan Edwards: Prize money simply has no place at the Olympics
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PUBLISHED: 16:07 EST, 28 July 2012 | UPDATED: 16:07 EST, 28 July 2012

 

'With $6 billion exchanging hands during the Olympics, why do athletes compete for free?' 400m bronze medallist Sanya Richards-Ross on Twitter

At face value, I understand Sanya's point. It is an indisputable fact that the Olympics are a billion-dollar economy - and that economy revolves around athletes competing at the Games.

A logical conclusion is to ask, as the American did last week: Why don't the athletes get a part of the action?

For me, the issue is not so straightforward.

Asking the question: Sanya Richards-Ross

Question time: Sanya Richards-Ross

While the Olympics are undeniably underpinned by huge commercial contracts, the public perceive the Games as standing for something different from other sporting events.

The fact that Roger Federer won £1million for winning Wimbledon doesn't change anyone's perspective on the tournament's status as the greatest tennis championship in the world. It's the same story for The Open Championship. Ernie Els's handsome reward for lifting the Claret Jug does not change how it is viewed as the most prestigious golf tournament of them all.

I don't think the Olympics are like that. For those attending the Games for the next fortnight, or watching them on TV around the world, they are judged by a different standard. It's about being the best you can be simply for the sake of it.

Although all sporting achievement is governed by a set of values, it's at the Olympic Games where that connection is most vividly made. When everyone else is making money, it seems contradictory to suggest athletes should not be paid. But I genuinely believe that would diminish the Olympic movement and fundamentally change the relationship the Games have with the public.

The Olympics would no longer hold the special appeal they have today. They would fall foul of the law of unintended consequences. Cash rewards would radically reduce the unique qualities of the Games, diminishing the commercial earning potential of Olympic champions.

Let me give an example of what I mean. Outside of the Olympics, rowing is not a sport that really registers hugely in the public conscience.

Golden time: Jonathan Edwards celebrates in Sydney

Golden time: Jonathan Edwards celebrates in Sydney

Yet by becoming Olympic champions, men such as Sir Steve Redgrave, Sir Matthew Pinsent and James Cracknell have been able to create and maintain careers, around their sport and beyond, long after they retired from rowing.

In the short term, they might have earned a little more, but, in the long term definitely not. That goes for a lot of people. From personal experience, I know that an Olympic gold medal has a currency of its own.

Quite recently I was invited to attend a corporate function in the United States for 6,000 people. I could imagine them all muttering, "Who is this English guy?" But once I was introduced as an Olympic champion there was an acceptance of my presence. People love to see an Olympic gold medal. No other medal has the same attraction.

Baron Pierre de Coubertin's ideal, as father of the modern Olympics, was to maintain that it is not just winning that matters. Even more than 100 years later that still resonates.

It is as if the athlete's participation, for no direct renumeration, is the last guardian of that ideal.

Jacques Rogge, the IOC president, summed up what the Olympics can achieve when he said: 'There may be only one winner in each event, but there can be many champions.'

Reward: Sir Steve Redgrave

Reward: Sir Steve Redgrave

Athletes should also consider that the IOC distribute hundreds of millions of dollars to the National Olympic Committees of competing countries.

And the United States do better out of this funding than any other country in the world, with their NOC using the funds to improve facilities for athletes in America.

Furthermore, elite athletes can have their earnings hugely enhanced in Olympic year when promoters offer a considerable uplift in appearance fees. Big sponsors look to appoint Olympic champions, or medallists, as ambassadors in a way they do not recruit world champions.

Commercialism is at the Olympics to stay, through the necessity of putting on the kind of grandiose sporting show we are about to witness in our country.

But, for me, it would be a retrograde step, for the Games and the athletes, if that commercialism was to include paying prize money.

Please don't let Phelps and Bolt look like mere mortals

Splash and burn: Phelps on his way to finishing fourth in the 400m individual medley final

Splash and burn: Phelps on his way to finishing fourth in the 400m individual medley final

I want Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps to conclude these Olympics still regarded as the sporting gods they became in Beijing four years ago.

I don't want Bolt to be beaten by his fellow Jamaicans Yohan Blake or Asafa Powell, or by Americans Tyson Gay or Justin Gatlin. And I don't want Phelps to lose out to American compatriot Ryan Lochte in the pool.

Regrettably, Phelps's Olympics began miserably as he finished fourth to Lochte's magnificent gold in the 400m individual medley.

I liked the fact that Bolt and Phelps have showed themselves to be almost superhuman. In Beijing, I watched Bolt as a fan, not an exathlete, and was blown away by him. He made all other athletes appear ordinary. I watched Phelps in the Olympic pool and everyone, and everything, just stood still.

But the truth is that Bolt and Phelps have much to do to defend their titles - and reputations - at London's Games. The fact that Bolt was disqualified in the 100m final at the World Championships last year did not alarm as much as Blake winning the 200m shortly afterwards in Brussels in 19.26sec, just outside Bolt's world record. The look on Bolt's face was one of pure shock.

I assumed that Bolt would spend the winter getting in better shape than ever. It doesn't seem to have worked out that way. Last week he said he was 95 per cent fit. That didn't sound too convincing.

He is the biggest name at the Olympics - perhaps the biggest name in sport. He exudes warmth and charm. His appearance in the Olympic Village last week brought the place to a halt. I want Bolt to win in London in the way he did in Beijing, in a manner that says: 'I am special.'

However, the stark truth for a man like him is that unless he wins the 100m and 200m he will have failed at London 2012. Bolt himself has said that to be deemed a legend, he has to win in London. Phelps now has six races left to redeem himself following last night's disappointing performance.

With no disrespect to those competing against them, I just don't want Usain Bolt or Michael Phelps to be exposed at these Olympics as normal human beings like the rest of us.

Danny's spectacular made me so proud

Explosive: Opening ceremony

Explosive: Opening ceremony

I have never been more proud to be British than during London's opening ceremony on Friday night. Not when I stood on the podium as Olympic champion in Sydney, nor when I broke the world triple jump record. Director Danny Boyle is a genius. The Olympics is about being the best you can be.

It's hard to see Danny topping the party that he threw for the world on behalf of London 2012 but it's important to remember that was just the curtain-raiser for two weeks of, hopefully, magnificent sport.

I enjoyed a quiet, reflective glass of champagne with Seb Coe, his wife Carol, Charles Allen and Tessa Jowell at 2am.

An hour later, our marketing director was out ensuring the branding was right for the start of yesterday's road race. The work never stops.

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