At the recent Asian Games, Korean archers and coaches collectively received nearly 880 million won (over £500,000 / $800,000) in bonuses from their sponsor Hyundai for the five golds, three silvers and one bronze medal they took home from Incheon.
The going rate for a gold medal is 70 million won (about £41,000 / $65,000), with 60 million won for a silver and 50 for a bronze. Not bad, and apparently more than the government bonus for Olympic gold medals in 2012 – although in Korea that also gets you a monthly stipend for life. Hyundai handed out similar bonuses to the medallists after London, and indeed Korea’s big corporations step in with cash for all kinds of Olympic sports, and become fairy godfathers to many types of athletes.
Many nations dole out cash for Olympic success. The top payer is Singapore, who sent just 26 athletes to London, offering $800,000 dollars to any of their sportsmen who take home a gold medal (although in 2012, this prize went unclaimed). The ‘table’ looks like this:
- Singapore $800,000 (gold)
- Thailand: $314,000 (gold)
- Philippines: $237,000 (gold)
- Kyrgyzstan: $200,000 (gold)
- Italy: $182,000 (gold)
- Uzbekistan: $150,000 (gold)
- Ukraine: $100,000 (gold) / $75,000 (silver) / $50,000 (bronze)
- Tajikistan: $63,000 (gold)
- China: $31,400 (gold)
- Ghana: $20,000 (gold)
- Australia: $20,000 (gold)
However, of the developed G8 countries, the gold payout table looks like this:
more countries’ bonus details here
(Yes, that’s right. Unlike almost every country in the world, Britain pays nothing at all for Olympic achievement.)
As for Korea, I am increasingly convinced that the main reason that that nation dominates the sport isn’t the training regime, or the talent identification system, or the professional leagues – it’s the money. In the case of the KAA, something like half the operating budget ultimately comes from Hyundai and its subsidiary Kia Motors. The historical reason for this is that in the early 1980s the authoritarian government leaned on their big corporations to fund Olympic sports – specifically, less popular sports – by giving them tax breaks to do so. This involved Hyundai actually taking over the NGB – thus began the Korean archery machine.
The governments changed, but over time the corporations came to see funding Olympic sports as both an excellent overseas marketing opportunity and a useful, very public exercise in social responsibility. The success of Korean archery and the success of Hyundai/Kia reflect each other; a win-win situation. The KAA and its powerful sponsor remain deeply entwined today, as was seen in Incheon when its formidable patron and chairman Chung Eui-Sun – vice-chairman of Hyundai – took the extraordinary step of rebuilding sections of the archery field after complaints were raised by the attending media. The immense amount of corporate funding allows for a deep pool of dozens of professional athletes to develop to their fullest potential, rather than the two or three per generation in every other country. That’s the real ‘secret’.
So, how can any other nation compete with that? I still think archery in the UK could attract sponsorship money, because it is invariably intriguing and dramatic to laymen – it’s saleable, and it’s hot right now (certainly compared to many other sports). The entry barriers are lower; partly because it needs much less ‘explaining’ than some other sports. World Archery has managed to pull in long-term deals from a wide variety of international brands with very different markets and brand values.
Of course, the Korean national team is the only archery squad in the world with that kind of cash ‘carrot’ at the end of a non-Olympic competition, and indeed, that kind of patronage, but it is ultimately indicative of a culture. South East Asia highly values its Olympic sportsmen and women and sees international achievement as a deep source of national pride, and its oligarchical system rewards that accordingly (it should be noted that the Asian Games is played out against a daunting backdrop of fierce historical rivalries). In the UK, unless you play cricket or football you receive little more than a pat on the back and a ‘jolly good show’ from the establishment.
The cult of the amateur is over. Unfortunately, international success in sport needs money, spent professionally and ruthlessly.
Thanks to DarkMuppet at Archery Interchange.