Are Commonwealth Games medals worth the taxpayer money?

Benjamin Biro Roar Rookie

By Benjamin Biro, Benjamin Biro is a Roar Rookie


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    The Campbell sisters cleaned up on the Gold Coast. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

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    During the Commonwealth Games, I was waiting to hear the usual cacophony of voices bemoaning the spending on elite sport in Australia, especially after the nation’s heavily criticised performance at the Rio Olympics.

    Since Sydney 2000, there has been a steady decline in Australia’s performances at the Olympics, with 58 medals in Sydne to 29 in Rio.

    During Rio though, the amount spent on elite sport with medals won was highlighted – the ABC writing that $11.4 million was spent per medal.

    I was waiting for similar critiques during this Commonwealth Games, and yet… crickets.

    The media has been overwhelmingly positive regarding Australia’s dominant performance, considering it finished first on the medal tally with 198 (and 80 gold) – a far cry from England, in second, with 136 (45 gold).

    When Australia is winning (and hosting), the media coverage moves away from criticising tax-payer investment in elite sport. However, let’s take a closer look.

    For comparison, this is the Australian Sports Commission’s investment in high performance over the last four years, leading up to the Gold Coast.

    Year Investment ($AUD)
    2014-15 $103,087,484
    2015-16 $99,907,066
    2016-17 $98,007,066
    2017-18 $101,589,035
    Total $402,590,651

    Here is a comparison of medals won at the most recent games with the cost per medal over the four years, based on the $402 million figure.

    Event Gold Silver Bronze Total medals $ spent per medal
    2016 Olympics 8 11 10 29 $13,882,434
    2016 Paralympics 22 30 29 81 $-*
    2018 Commonwealth 80 59 59 198 $2,033,286
    Total 110 100 98 308 $1,307,113
    Millions spent per medal $3.7 $4 $4.1 $1.3

    (I’m unsure the exact expenditure on Paralympic athletes over four years. Between 2015-16 to 2017-18, approximately $38.9 million was spent on high performing Paralympic athletes.)

    People will say that the Commonwealth Games does not compare to the Olympics in quality, however it is still an internationally competitive field across all events, and should be considered when assessing funding of elite sport.

    So we have just over $2 million spent per medal at the Gold Coast, which is a far cry from over $13.4 million in Rio. Overall, it’s been $1.3 million for all the medals won in the past three major events.

    I have no idea whether that is a good or bad result, let’s dig a little deeper.

    Hypothetically, how much does each individual athlete get? This is difficult to answer, as the only place where I could get clear athlete numbers is through the dAIS program, which provides a direct grant to athletes.

    The dAIS program ranged from 755 to 937 athletes over this four year period, and is only a small part of the high-performance program – in 2016-17, it was equivalent to 13.4 per cent of the total spent on high performance by the Australian Sports Commission.

    However, as this is the best way to get an understanding of athlete numbers, it is as good a place to get a comparison.

    If all 937 athletes spread the full high-performance investment in 2016-17, it would equate to $104,596.7 each. This is a healthy wage, however it incorporates the costs of competing at an elite level, so this funding would quickly evaporate when you are paying for coaches, physios, travelling to international events, etc.

    This is especially true considering the average AFL wage was more than three times higher – $352,470 in 2018. As such, Australia’s athletes do not necessarily get a sweet ride to win medals.

    Mitch Larkin

    Mitch Larkin (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

    In addition, if you compare 937 athletes against the number of Commonwealth medals won, that is less than one in five athletes winning a medal.

    One in five winning a medal is pretty good, especially since Rio had one in 32 athletes – which is still pretty good, given that it is the pinnacle of sport, with the highest quality athletes from around the world.

    However, playing devil’s advocate, is it really worth investing $2 million to win a medal at the Commonwealth Games? I do not really know, but I would argue that the Australian Sports Commission does a reasonable job picking athletes for funding, per athlete funded ratio, considering how difficult it is to win a medal.

    It is important to assess value in the good times (basking in the glow of the Gold Coast) and the bad (Rio), to get a true indication of what people are thinking. To compare, the Australian Sports Commission spent approximately $88 million in this same period to national sporting organisations for participation, which appears to be funding for grassroots sport. This is roughly 22 per cent of what is spent on high performance.

    Do you think our high-performance spending was value for money considering the results at the Gold Coast? Do you think we should be spending more at grassroots level, even if it means our medal tally declines?

    The Australian Sports Commission figures are based off the following documents and includes able and para athletes:

    2014-15 (pg 17 – no investment allocation document was available)

    It is noted that there are some slight discrepancies in total figures between the Investment Allocation documents and Annual Reports for 2015-16 and 2016-17. For consistency, the Investment Allocation documents were used.

    The figures of dAIS funded athletes is sourced from:

    2014-15 (pg 17)
    2015-16 (pg 47)
    2016-17 (pg 28)

    Figures on average AFL player wages were sourced from this article.

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    The Crowd Says (9)

    • Roar Pro

      April 21st 2018 @ 7:04am
      Stuart McLennan said | April 21st 2018 @ 7:04am | ! Report

      World championships are the pinnacle for a number of sports and need to be included when talking funding alongside Olympic and Commonwealth games.

      • April 21st 2018 @ 8:19am
        Benjamin Biro said | April 21st 2018 @ 8:19am | ! Report

        Thanks Stuart for the comment. I decided to not mention world champs and other sporting events as it would take a huge amount of effort to compile, as I would have to do that across a large number of events to get an accurate number. However, you are right that they are critical to the picture and should be considered. At the minimum, I should have acknowledged the importance of world champs in the article and how this picture is not complete with out them.

    • April 21st 2018 @ 7:54am
      Old Hat said | April 21st 2018 @ 7:54am | ! Report

      No, but you could say the same for farmer’s assistance. Why not give assistance to landless office workers? Then why are we giving Foxtel assistance to broadcast women’s sport? We have become this ‘bludgers economy’ and the biggest ones are the corporates.

      So giving it to sport, at least encourages sports and is a positive thing. Not aiding inflating property prices or keeping failing businesses(yes YOU bludging farmers!) operational.

      • April 21st 2018 @ 8:39am
        Tony H said | April 21st 2018 @ 8:39am | ! Report

        What an absolutely stupid comment. I’m guessing that your woman left you for a farmer?
        If you hate farmers so much, give them what for and don’t eat a single tasty, delicious thing that they grow to keep the likes of you alive.

        That’ll show em!

    • April 21st 2018 @ 8:36am
      Onside said | April 21st 2018 @ 8:36am | ! Report

      We contracted out the opening and closing ceremony’s to a USA firm for about $41 Million.

    • April 21st 2018 @ 9:36am
      BrainsTrust said | April 21st 2018 @ 9:36am | ! Report

      The amount spent on hosting he Commonwealth games itself is in the order of billions and it creates a lot of white elephants, and it doesn’t even bring in the tourists, it would be mainly locals and Brisbane people on day trips are the called visitors .The Gold Coast businesses have called it a dead period so no benefit to them. So the cost of hosting a games means Commonwealth gold medals cost about 30 million each when you host them. Great Britain spend about 10 times more money on the athletes than Australia so at least whether they host or not does not make a big difference. You can save a lot money just by not hosting the games , Canada have been avoiding it like the plague.
      The Australian sports commision is not the only source of government funding for sport. It seems that the media has created loopholes where a certain sport is now getting publicly funded 100 million dollar training bases with no rent charged just for one team and nothing is being made of it.

    • April 21st 2018 @ 10:11am
      Kris said | April 21st 2018 @ 10:11am | ! Report

      At no point do you establish why taxpayers should be paying these athletes to pursue their dreams? Why not pay the same money to pay gardeners to nurture their dream hedges?

      The normal justification is that they set an example that encourages sports participation that in turn encourages health that both promotes productivity and saves health care spend. Now on that basis winning is probably more effective an inspiration than anything else.

    • April 21st 2018 @ 1:36pm
      i miss the force said | April 21st 2018 @ 1:36pm | ! Report

      your analysis of using medal count is faulty. all medals arent equal. by your analysis we should get rid of all team sports because its not efficient, and we should concentrate on swimming and gymnastics where one person can win many medals. the 100m sprint is worth a lot more than a sailing medal

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