Olympic Power and National Power

Following on from my last post, I’ve noticed that my former colleague (and all round top guy) Will Inboden, has posted on the relationship between national power and Olympic success.

Will includes a comparison between medal success and GDP and military expenditures (both he happily admits are crude proxies for national power). He concludes:

Overall that wealth, military spending, and Olympic success seem to go together — not too surprising. The national characteristics necessary to produce Olympic-level elite athletes seem to involve a blend of hard and soft power quotients. The most obvious hard power dimension is economic; nations with more wealth are able to devote more resources to supporting Olympic training and facilities. Population levels are certainly a factor, but in relation to overall wealth. In the domain of soft power, nations with functioning governance can effectively direct their resources for determined purposes, such as developing a system to encourage Olympic athletes. Some dimension of culture is another soft power quotient that may play a part, for the self-evident reason that cultures that value sports in general, and in many cases particular sports, are more likely to produce Olympic athletes…

The other side of the coin is countries that are ascendant as economic and/or military powers but who still punch below their weight at the Olympics. From the table above, the three countries that stand out the most are India, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia — all of which rank much higher in GDP and defense spending than in Olympic medal counts. This is understandable given that ascendant powers usually first focus on getting their fundamentals of economic growth, infrastructure, and defense on track before devoting national resources to sports sponsorship. Conversely, Olympic results are often a lagging indicator for declining powers. Nations such as Russia that are otherwise in relative economic and military decline still produce  Olympic successes, perhaps partly due to the inherited infrastructure and tradition of supporting elite Russian athletes.



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