Apr 9, 2020 - Sports

U.S. Olympians brace for $200 million cash crunch

A gold medal.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The Tokyo Olympics postponement means that nearly $200 million in media rights fees, which the International Olympic Committee was set to distribute to the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee, likely won't arrive until August 2021.

Why it matters: While this certainly puts a financial strain on the USOPC, it also illuminates the larger issue of how the committee distributes its funds, with athletes occupying the bottom of a trickle-down system that leaves many destitute even in the best of times.

What they're saying: In a 2018 segment of "Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel," snowboarder Jonathan Cheever, who competed in Pyeongchang, said that the little help he got from the USOPC — a $1,500 stipend, plus health insurance — only covered a fraction of his costs.

  • In fact, when he wasn't training, he had to work as a licensed plumber to help pay off the $70,000+ in debt he'd racked up on his credit card.
  • Meanwhile, 14 USOPC execs were paid $200,000+ that year, while another 115 staff members made six figures.

The big picture: The USOPC is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, making it one of the few national Olympic committees that don't receive government funding. Hence why this $200 million cash crunch could hit American athletes particularly hard.

  • "Our nation stands apart from others because our Olympic and Paralympic teams are not just cheered by an enthusiastic national fan base, but also funded by one," the U.S. Olympic Foundation, a nonprofit that fundraises for the USOPC, proudly states on its website.
  • By comparison, the U.K. government pours ~$709 million into UK Sport, an agency that manages funding and partnerships for Olympic athletes; and in Canada, the government invests ~$153 million into the Olympics annually, per Mother Jones.

The bottom line: We love the Olympics because they give us all a chance to come together every 2–4 years and get the patriotic warm-and-fuzzies. But behind the scenes, the USOPC's financial distribution model causes undue strain on Olympic hopefuls — and those purse strings just got even tighter.

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