- Fernando Duarte
- BBC Brazil in Rio de Janeiro
Faced with the atmosphere of national celebration that has marked the London (2012) Olympics, in which the British team achieved its best medal finish in more than 100 years, the country’s sporting authorities have warned of a possible underperformance at Rio 2016.
The conservative stance now looks modest: on courts, courts, tracks, swimming rings and swimming pools in Rio de Janeiro, Team GB not only surpassed the number of medals taken at home, but also had its best finish in the overall medal table (67) at The latest gaming era, only after the United States and ahead of China.
Britain’s performance, although it only topped the 2012 competition by two medals, was surprising because it defied a kind of sports performance law: countries hosting the Games showed a drop in performance in the next edition of the competition. The list included the Chinese themselves, winners of 100 medals in 2008, when Beijing hosted the event, and 88 in London four years later.
How do we explain the British success? The answer is not that simple, but it is closely related to what the country’s “inventor” of a series of modern sports would call a resounding failure at the Atlanta Olympics, in 1996. That year, Team GB finished the competition with 15 medals (one gold, eight silver and six bronze), and ranked 36th in the general classification, even behind Brazil.
The performance caused such a stir among the media and the public that the then Prime Minister, John Major, made the decision to use money from the British Lottery to fund the country’s top level sport. This caused a cash outflow: For the 2016 Olympics, the total amount was more than R$1.3 billion—less than the estimate of at least R$2 billion that Brazil invested in top-level sport in Rio 2016.
It was 10% higher than it was at the 2012 London Olympics.
Bill Sweeney, chairman of the British Olympic Committee (BOA), said, “It’s been 20 years of investment that have led to successive Olympics of growth in medal counts. No other country has achieved this.”
The 15 medals certainly doubled in subsequent games, but before anyone simply sees a direct link between money and results, experts point to an interesting feature of the British programme. UK Sport, the body responsible for managing the resource, has not hesitated to prioritize methods that deliver good results and offer medal odds at at least two Olympics.
This, for example, helps explain the success of the Briton in sports such as cycling, which gave Team GB the most medals at Rio 2016 (12). The success of the method in London, when it also won 12 medals, was worth a 36% larger investment than in the last Olympic cycle. Sports that showed potential in 2012, such as artistic gymnastics, have also benefited from budget increases – British gymnastics jumped from four to seven medals at Rio 2016, including Max Whitlock’s unprecedented Olympic gold medals.
On the other hand, “peripheral” sports suffer, especially those without traditions in the country. This explains why there were no British representatives in basketball and handball at Rio 2016, sports that benefited in London from the host country’s automatic seeding.
Taking advantage of lottery money, and investing sports federations in training centers and sports technology, in addition to searching for new talents.
The British approach has its critics. “The system is effective, but it’s brutal. There is definitely a return on investment, because the medals are increasing. But there are questions we can ask here: What about sports that don’t win medals, like basketball, but have huge potential in urban centers in the UK,” he asks. Borja Garcia, a specialist in sports politics at Loughborough University in the UK.
Academics such as Garcia chafe at the focus on Olympic results in the face of research showing a downward trend in population participation in sports in post-Olympic London. “The argument that medals lead to sustainable increases in sports participation is not perfect.”
Author of one of the most commented books in this Olympic cycle, which discusses the reasons behind 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 the British. . He praised the efficiency of the British, but did not think it was a global model.
“There is a tendency for countries to emphasize only the sports that can earn medals, including countries that invest more specifically, as in the case of Jamaica (all 11 of the country’s medals at Rio 2016 came from athletics, including Usain Bolt’s three golds) .. The problem is that the medals do not reflect the popularity of the sport, and the most important thing in all of this is that the population plays sports, ”says Reich.
“This is especially important in the case of Western countries that are facing increasing rates of obesity among their populations, as is also the case with Brazil. Brazil can learn to organize its elite sports institutions as Australia does, and it needs to encourage every female player to enter them. As the Americans did,” he continues. .
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