« Financing the Olympic Games--Posner's Comment | Main | Hollywood and Liberals-Becker »



Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.


As someone who grew up in the former Soviet Union I dispute Mr. Becker's suggestion that communist countries "use their authoritarian structure to force parents to let their children be taken to centralized facilities"--at least this has never been the case in Russia. The single reason for Soviet success in sports was ability to use centralized resources because the government was putting high value on prestige of the Olympic achievments. This is not dissimilar to the reasons behind the success of the Soviet space program.

Regarding the argument that wealthy countries do better in sports, there's pretty interesting graph in Conde Nast Portfolio magazine proving otherwise. You can see it at http://www.portfolio.com/interactive-features/2008/07/Country-Olympic-Medal-Count-Vs-Wealth


Have the good professors run out of reasonably meaningful topics. As far as I can remember, aside from the folks from Marathon, Hitler was the last person who thought that the Olympics meant anything about "national parameters".



That graph is very, very misleading. You have to remember that the number of medals is finite, so no matter how large your GDP or population is there is a cap on how many possible medal you can win. Thus, the second a smaller and less wealth country wins a medal the stats are skewed if you simply divide medals by GDP.


I ran a similar regression some years ago, but didn't go ahead with publication. The problem was the the USA and Soviet Union were big outliers for reasons of a very large populations compared to other countries. If you take these two countries out of the sample, the regression explained little (and countries like East Germany were outliers). If you do the regression on a medals per capita basis, it again explained little. A similar problem would exist today for a regression with China in the sample.


How about the total gold medals ,sir?
china is the no1.


I don't want to rain on your nationalistic parade, but I would bet that Chinese, Americans, Russians or whatever "country" have more in common than differences in athletic performance or potential. Regardless of "national origin", if I remember correctly, EVERYONE needs food, shelter, air to breathe, freedom, family, etc. I will also bet that in every locale in the world there are hunderds of thousands of heros who struggle in the face of one adversity or another every day, and prevail at that.

Looking at Olympic performance as any measure of anything is like measuring the state of "business" by looking at the stock market on any given day.

Sorry. I just cannot get too excited over this subject.


I was interested enough to search for the Johnson paper cited and Prof. Johnson's Colorado College web page. I wasn't interested enough to pay Wiley $30 for 24 hour access to the paper.


It's really all about Entertainment, Propaganda, and Bragging Rights. Has been since the first Olympics held by the Greeks. "Nah-Nah"! "Our atheltes are better than yours"! Now I ask you, how can anyone put a price on all this?

I just wonder today that if we were at war, pillaging and plundering, whether we would declare a cease-fire for the duration of the Games so every one could attend. Like the ancient Greeks did. Now that was CLASS!


I would concur with Russian commentator that "use their authoritarian structure to force parents to let their children be taken to centralized facilities" statement is not proper.

I grew up in China and now moved to US as immigrant. I understand fully how Chinese sport system worked before and how it gradually changed over time.

First all, there was no "force" to be said on parents. If parents do not agree to let their kids to go to sport school in China, I don't think government in China ever forced any kids. This has been always voluntary by nature, with centralized government subsidy. In other word, in stead of sport club in US, CHina has big sport subsidy school systems, many times full time shool for kids living in shool.

Second of all. Chinese current sport system is no longer exactly same as 'old soviet system', it gradually changed. Initially decade ago, it was same. Now Chinese government gradually adopted capitalistic methods in this system.

For example, I believe many of Olympic gold medalist went into the sports when they were kids because they and their parents wanted "glory" and "money". Yao Ming is multi-millionaire, Liu Xiang (Gold medalist of Hurdle) has multi-million ad contracts. It was reported that by "quitting the game", Liu lost $ billion size ad. Olympic gold medalist in China is "celebrity" like movie star and many of them are millionaires once they made it. They worked hard for years, they got cash reward after sucess. Getting into the centralized sport system is essentially a way of "moving up the ladder" for many average people in CHina, especially for those from poor family. Poor people never can afford sport club fees, but they can enter government system for dreams if they have talents.

Should government like China spend so much money in sport infrastructure and in spoort shools? I think it should. Is it worth the money? I don't see that much of complain yet in China on it, and CHinese economy is so big that this amount of dollar should not be real society burden.

I don't believe that private club method in US is always going to be better than "centralized system" in China. As long as Chinese government spends the dollar within proper limit, and helps the poor family to achieve sport dreams, even possiblity of glory and money, there is nothing wrong with the system.

Sport is for rich and poor. Centralized government system like China decrease the gap between rich and poor in sports for talented future Olympians, the system has result of gold medals, and provide national pride. I am for it.


I really appreciate what you said here but something about China.Though China is a authoritarian country,she does not forbid any one to retire as you said.i have a story to tell you.True,Chinese government offers more resources to our athletes than US government does,but 'forced' is somewhat unacceptable.


chinese government is much like the private maket economies.every champion can get at least 400 thousand yuan and chance to go to one of the top universities in China.

what's more,even those who did well but never got any champions also received some subsidies or privileges in getting better high education.


I believe there are other reasons the US doesn't invest more public monies in the Games. We have a hugely popular internal sports industry that the Government can exploit year round. This industry keeps large swaths of the (male, but increasingly female as well) population talking about sports instead of issues that actually affect their lives. Pardon my cynicism, but a government that believed in civic participation as much as ours professes to should not spend as much time and resources as it does on sports, from municipalities expenditures on sports stadiums to costly Congressional investigations of "drug scandals."

If you are going to do an economic analysis of sport, perhaps it should involve a discussion of the negative externalities caused by undue promotion of the gladiator mentality.


The communist criminals running China are trotting out little girls for the "glory" of China. Sad and pathetic. And more than a little cruel. Yao Ming was basically a product of a government breeding program. It's horrible to treat your citizens like animals.


For Nationalist Americans:

Don't blame China on government subsidy for gold medals. Blame US on poor Olympic performance, losing medal race to China.

I am cynical. Americans are in average rich, much richer than Chinese in China. But I challenge the current American sport system on this: when can we find non-white, non-immigrant black Americans in swimming, gymnastic Olympic medal ceremonies?

The truth is that, Chinese centralized planning has its shortcomings, American current sport system has its shortback too.

American government and current sport status quo forbid non-rich urban kids to go to swimming pool, and gym fieds. No every americans can afford the private club. Most Chinese in China can not afford private club too. But Chinese government made it free to poor kids future Olympians in China .

Where is "fair" and "equality" in Amercian private club system here for black and urban population? Should the world and Chinese blame "criminal capatilist US governments and big money men" breeding black americans like "animals" in track and fields and basketball fields? How about "Jones" on drugs?

In sports and Olympic, Americans past records was not any better than Chinese. Get real, there is no moral supramacy on American "money only" sport system on steroid.

Chinese gold medals earned are as gold as Americans


Cheating is an Olympic staple with a time-honored tradition. Looks like the Chinese gymnastics officials weren't good enough at it, though.


Was American track and field officials good on Jones "cheating"?

No, I am not defending on "cheating". Cheaters should be punished, and cheating officials should be punished when the evidence are found.

But there is no evidence on Chinese athletes , nor on officials yet.

if anyone can jump on conclusion before evidence, then the world have every reason to jump on conclusion of "cheating American track and field officials" on Jones. Jones was not the first in America.

Rule is rule, and law is law. But when no evidences are found, IOC has not issued any ruling, I don't believe any "biased" reports or narrowed nationalist view in American media propaganda against China.


Henry sez:

But I challenge the current American sport system on this: when can we find non-white, non-immigrant black Americans in swimming, gymnastic Olympic medal ceremonies?

American government and current sport status quo forbid non-rich urban kids to go to swimming pool, and gym fieds. No every americans can afford the private club. Most Chinese in China can not afford private club too. But Chinese government made it free to poor kids future Olympians in China.

.................. which might be something of an exaggeration. First of my own guess would be that we've as many top flight swimmers who developed their skills primarily in HS or college pools as in private clubs. Then we've something of a numbers and perhaps cultural game at work and it is disappointing that fewer "blacks" are not enrolled in college and that many drop out of HS.

Then, if "blacks" are but 12% of our population we'd only expect one on a team of 8. But, and I sort of hate to generalize, but there seems a cultural aspect of "blacks" not being drawn to water sports. Perhaps?? It's like tennis before Arthur Ash? Or golf pre- Tiger? Or? even a holdover from the racist policies of pool use in our past.

I will concede that Olympic sports probably does favor the sons and daughters of fairly well off parents due to the need for specialized training, travel as well as a belief of the young athlete that if he/she does excel there's enough money and familial support to "get there".

Were we to have some easy means of identifying lower income "whites" I'd think they would share much in common with similar economic level "blacks".

Henry continues:
"Should the world and Chinese blame "criminal capatilist US governments and big money men" breeding black americans like "animals" in track and fields and basketball fields? How about "Jones" on drugs?"

So far I've put "black" and "white" in parens as these days, biologically race does not exist, however among many of African descent there is a difference in knee and leg structure that gives an advantage in the running sports.

I don't know if your comment about "breeding" is in earnest, but considering how short a time that big money sports have been around there would be little time for "breeding".

BTW and FWIW I've never liked to think of the Olympics, Tour de France, or World Cup Skiing as venues to show US, German, Russian "superiority" but as a place in which athletes can engage in a fairly pure, individual, competition. When a kid from another nation bests "our" competitor I'm as happy for him/her as they are all individual athletes and did the work to get there and excel on that particular day and those I've known personally did not appear to be doing it "for the flag".


NYSkeptic, You're quite right. What I wish, is that we give up these pathetic pretensions about professional-bloodless sports and games. Returning to a pure form that was "to the death". From an economic stand point, this would be a good thing. At least we could cut down on our swelling prison population that's costing us upwards of thirty to fifty thousand dollars a year per prisoner. What a savings! Also, it would create within the general population a hard headed and less than squeamish group that can be utilised for the extension of policy across all fronts. No more of that fuzzy headed-touchy feely thinking that is the bain of action and policy ("tis along the sword's razor edge that runs the logic and ethic that is our lives").

Let the Games Begin!


Personally, I care little about America's performance in America. I find China's government disgusting, though, and it's Soviet-style treatment of it's people and athletes is just an example of such how immoral they are.

It's also interesting how the Internet is filled with crazed nationalist Chinese ready to attack anyone who criticizes China. All I can say is get used to it. Until your criminal government comes out of the Stone Age then decent people will criticize you.

Of course, half of the China defenders are probably paid Chinese propagandists. Or graduate students studying in America. Or both.


Here is fairly good description of current Chinese sport system:
Project 119- Leave No Future Olympian Behind! - Part 2


So basically, in China, the sports system is seen as a means of social mobility. I know there’s a stereotype in the Western media that it’s a system that ruins lives, but, in fact, the perception in China is that, in most cases, it’s a ticket to a better life, especially for peasants who are given a residence permit once they make the provincial sports team.

And this is really a big advantage in life for a peasant who comes from a rural background where he’s held to that background through the residence permit system, a rural residence permit.

I applaud SUSAN BROWNELL and RAY SUAREZ accurate description of current sport system in China. Lots of negative media coverage on Chinese sport system is way off.

Gymnastic gold medalist Shawn Johnson's coach Liang Chow was a gymnastic champion of China of 1980's. American woman volleyball team's coach Jenny Lang Ping, a national hero and Olympic gold medalist of China in 80's. They were the product of CHinese government subsidy as well in the past.

Lots of coaches of current Chinese Olympic teams are from America and Europe.

Sport world is a lot more interwined than before. Finger pointing against China is not necessary.

There is "for the flag" factor in huge Chinese government sport spending over past decade, no doubt about it. But put that aside, there is not really a lot of difference between Olympians in China or Olympians in USA. They all worked hard to achieve individual dreams in sport. Once they made it, they all can dream of glory and personal wealth.

China has 1.3 billion pool of talented future Olympians, US has largest GDP in the world. It is reasonable to expect both countries to be at top of medal table due to demographics or economics.

Chinese GDP is growing at 10% per year currently, but US population is not growing at 10% per year. The trend is in China's favor for future "friendly" medal race.



sterotyping China's sport system as "soviet" is way off.

Chinese current system inherited positive elements of soviet system and capitalistis western system.

Soviet Union did not have free market economy, China is largely of free market economy. Soviet Olympic gold medalists in the past did not strike rich with their medals. Many Chinese gold medalist did. Li Ning, 3 gold medals winner of 1984 Olympics, the guy that light the torch in this Olympic is richer than most Americans with net worth north of $100 million, a CEO and Chairman of his own private clothing company. Li Ning's business success would not be possible without his personal glory and fame of Olympic gold medals.

Not every past gold medalist of China can achieve business in other field as Li Ning does. But they are better off with their sports success.

Blaming "Chinese government mistreating its athelete" is way off. I will be glad to be mistreated by government for gold medals if I am able to make as much as Li Ning.


Li Ning stock jumped 5% after Li Ning light the torch of Olympics:


Li Ning is $30 million richer due to Olympics opening ceremony.


this is inspiring! I found this nice little interactive chart widget that lets you see the olympic medals count per country, taking gross domestic product and size of population into account. China and US are doing really bad ... http://www.clearspring.com/widgets/48abc6bc903b61d0



August 3, 2008,

I.O.C. Strips Gold From 2000 U.S. Relay Team

2000 track and field team officially cheated the gold medal with steroid

This is another case after Marion Jones drug scandal:


Track and field medals on steroid


American "cheating" gold medalist Pettigrew was so good that drug test did not catch him, and former British competitor did not suspect that either.

Britain's Black stunned by Pettigrew drugs case


LONDON (AFP) - Olympic silver medallist Roger Black said he feels "a fool" after American sprinter Antonio Pettigrew, who pipped him to the 1991 world title, became the latest high-profile athlete linked to drug-taking.

"For me it's disappointing," the Briton told the Observer newspaper published Sunday.

"If he was taking drugs in 1991, he robbed me of being a world champion.

"When you looked around at your competitors I thought Pettigrew was clean. He was quick, but not super quick, and he was consistent over a long period of time."

The comments to this entry are closed.

Become a Fan

May 2014

Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
        1 2 3
4 5 6 7 8 9 10
11 12 13 14 15 16 17
18 19 20 21 22 23 24
25 26 27 28 29 30 31