- Fernando Duarte
- BBC Brazil in Rio de Janeiro
Given the atmosphere of national celebration that prevailed at the London Olympics (2012), in which the British team achieved its best medal result in more than 100 years, the country’s sports authorities warned of a possible decline in performance at Rio 2016.
The conservative stance now appears modest: on court, field, track, rings and pools in Rio, Team GB not only surpassed the number of medals taken on home soil, but also achieved their best result in the overall medal table (67) at the most recent tournament. Gaming era, behind only the United States and ahead of China.
Britain’s performance, although it surpassed the 2012 competition by just two medals, was surprising because it defied a kind of sporting performance law: the nations hosting the Games showed a decline in performance in the next edition of the competition. It is a list that included the Chinese themselves, who won 100 medals in 2008, when Beijing hosted, and 88 in London four years later.
How do we explain the British success? The answer is not that simple, but it is closely linked to what the country that “invented” a series of modern sports was able to describe as an abject failure at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. That year, the British team finished the competition with fifteen medals (one gold, eight silver and six bronze), To occupy 36th place in the general classification, behind Brazil.
The performance created such a sensation among the media and public that the then Prime Minister, John Major, made the decision to use British Lottery money to fund high-level sport in the country. This has caused an influx of money: for the 2016 Olympics, the total value was more than R$1.3 billion – less than estimates of at least R$2 billion that Brazil invested in high-level sport at Rio 2016.
It was 10% higher than at the 2012 London Olympics.
Bill Sweeney, president of the British Olympic Committee, said on Sunday: “20 years of investment has resulted in successive Olympics of medal growth. No other country has achieved this.”
Sure, the 15 medals were doubled in subsequent Games, but before anyone simply sees a direct correlation between money and results, experts point to an interesting feature of the British programme. British Sports Authority, the body responsible for managing resources, did not hesitate to give priority to sports that achieve good results and provide the possibility of winning medals in at least two Olympic Games.
This, for example, helps explain the success of Britons in sports such as cycling, which gave Team GB the highest number of medals at Rio 2016 (12). The sport’s success in London, when it also won 12 medals, was worth a 36% larger investment than at the last Olympics. Sports that showed their potential in 2012, such as artistic gymnastics, also benefited from the budget increases – with British Gymnastics jumping from four to seven medals at Rio 2016, including an unprecedented Olympic gold medal for Max Whitlock.
In contrast, “peripheral” sports are suffering, especially those that have no tradition in the country. This explains the lack of British representatives in basketball and handball at Rio 2016, sports that in London benefited from automatic seeding for the host country.
By leveraging lottery funds, sports federations have invested in training centers and sports technology, as well as searching for new talent.
The British approach has its critics. “The system is efficient, but brutal. There is definitely a return on investment, because the medals are increasing. But there are questions we can ask here: What do we say about sports that do not win medals, such as basketball, but have,” asks Borja Garcia, a political expert. Sports athlete at Loughborough University, UK: “There is huge potential for recruitment in British urban centres.”
Academics like Garcia are uncomfortable focusing on Olympic results in the face of research showing a downward trend in population participation in sports post-London. “The argument that medals lead to sustainable increases in sports participation is not perfect,” he adds.
Author of one of the most popular books of this Olympic cycle, which discusses the reasons for what can be called the success and failure of nations in the medal table, German researcher Daniel Reich analyzed the mathematical model of several countries, including Britain. He praises the efficiency of the British, but does not believe it is a global model.
“There is a tendency for countries to focus only on sports that can yield medals, including countries that invest more specifically, as is the case in Jamaica (all 11 medals the country took at Rio 2016 came from athletics, including That includes Usain Bolt’s three golds.) “The problem is that the medals don’t reflect the popularity of the sport,” Reich says. “The most important thing in all of this is that residents exercise.”
“This is particularly important in the case of Western countries facing high rates of obesity among their populations, as is also the case in Brazil. Brazil could learn to organize its elite sports institutions as Australia does, and needs to encourage all female athletes to enter, as he did,” he adds. The Americans.”
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