The Cost of Gold Medals

An Olympic gold medal costs China about 30-80 million yuan to win. How does the cost break down? Read on, from Qianliexian Wants to Speak blog article dated Aug. 26, 2004. This article was originally published in Chinese magazine《OBSERVER全球财经观察》 (closed), translated by CDT:

On Aug. 4, the Bird’s Nest construction was halted due to construction funds. In recent days, several Beijing Olympics venues have become controversial, drawing China’s “all-out national sports investment regime” under tight scrutiny.

But the investment for the 2004 Games is also enormous. From the “glorious Olympics plan” underway since 1993, the Chinese government has made clear that no matter how much money it puts in, the goal is to win as many medals as possible, for their social and political significance, especially golds.

Origin of “glorious Olympics plan”

Wu Shouzhang was an official with the competitive sports department of the Sports Ministry. In 1993, his boss, sports minister Yuan Weiming, called him into his office, asking him to draft a glorious Olympics plan (1994-2000). He was very nervous. But when he retired from his office in 2001 after China won 28 golds in Sydney, he was very happy with the achieved goal. Then a new plan surfaced and 2001 brought about a new starting line.

“Yes, we got 28 golds in Sydney,” said Cui Dalin, deputy head of the Athens delegation of China. “But we cannot yet proclaim ourselves as a sports power.” Cui said China’s goal was to do a good job in Athens and prepare for Beijing with an upward momentum and clearly maintain China’s number three position in the medals count. He had a lot of pressure but he said China’s model of “going all out for medals” couldn’t change. “Now many countries are imitating us, because this system works.”

The new plan (2001-2010) encourages various levels of government to guarantee significant investments in sports, including support for athletes in poor areas. And increasing amounts of money is expected over the years. Team China has also been expanded, with a second tier as a backup, with an additional 706 first tier athletes and 1,200 in the second tier. Since 2004, Team China has grown from 1,316 to 3,222.

In 2000, the year before the new plan kicked in, China’s annual budget for “culture, sports and broadcasting” was 29.2 billion yuan, which included 1.6 billion yuan for the sports ministry. And since then the money for sports has been growing year after year.

From 2001-2004, the country added 100 million yuan on top of the previous year’s budget for sports; from 2005-2008 the additions doubled to 200 million yuan a year. This doesn’t include other funds for the 2008 Games. The amount of special funds for the Beijing Games would add up to four billion yuan.

Take gymnastics, for example, which is the most expensive sport in terms of equipment. Annual spending was 20 million yuan from 2001-2003, including one million for facility upgrades, two million yuan for food, 850,000 yuan for subsidies/allowances and 17 million for administrative, salaries, training and other expenses. In 2003-2004 there was another facility upgrade expense of four million. So that was 80 million yuan for four years. If the team wins one to three golds, the cost for each gold would be 27-80 million yuan.

The diving team spent 120 million yuan in four years for the four golds. So each gold cost 30 million yuan.

Read also: China wants more gold in athletics and swimming from Reuters.