As eyes are on the 2021 Summer Games in Tokyo, the answer still surprises me.
Most Olympians earn nothing for Olympic competition. Many countries’ Olympic teams, including the United States, provide travel expenses to Olympic competitors, but even these funds don’t come directly from the government, rather a pool of private and corporate donors.
Olympic corporate sponsorships
The only direct income a few Olympians receive for their competition is from corporate sponsorships. For an A-list Olympian, like Naomi Osaka, that means plenty of dough to support herself while training and competing.
Oaska reportedly earned $55 million in endorsements over the past 12 months, along with an additional $5 million in sponsorships. Osaka, who has been billed as the “new face of tennis,” has big-brand sponsors that include Google, Louis Vuitton, and Levi’s.
And then there’s two-time Olympic gold winner, Kevin Durant. Durant has leveraged his success both with the Olympics and as a star NBA player into his own empire. He invests in a variety of companies through his venture capital firm, Thirty Five Ventures. His $75 million estimated net worth includes an estimated $40 million in sponsorships, but how he’s leveraged those sponsorships into business investments is what really makes a difference.
Medal bonus amounts for U.S. athletes
So how much do less famous competitors get paid?
All U.S. athletes can earn a “medal bonus” from the U.S. Olympic Committee for each medal won.
The Committee pays American medal winners $37,500 USD for gold, $22,500 USD for silver, and $15,000 USD for bronze medals. Some countries, though not all, pay athletes similar medal bonuses:
Medal bonuses across the globe
|Singapore||744,000 USD||372,000 USD||286,000 USD|
|Hong Kong||644,000 USD||322,000 USD||161,000 USD|
|Kazakhstan||250,000 USD||150,000 USD||75,000 USD|
|Italy||212,400 USD||106,200 USD||70,800 USD|
|Hungary||167,500 USD||125,600 USD||95,500 USD|
|Russia||61,000 USD||38,000 USD||26,000 USD|
|France||65,000 USD||25,000 USD||15,000 USD|
|USA||37,500 USD||22,500 USD||15,000 USD|
|South Africa||37,000 USD||19,000 USD||7,000 USD|
|Germany||22,000 USD||17,000 USD||11,000 USD|
|Canada||16,000 USD||12,000 USD||8,000 USD|
|Malaysia||241,000 USD||72,200 USD||24,100 USD|
|Brazil||47,500 USD||28,500 USD||19,000 USD|
|Japan||45,200 USD||18,100 USD||9,045 USD|
|Australia||15,100 USD||11,400 USD||7,600 USD|
Malaysia also pays monthly salaries to its medalists for life. Those salaries are RM5,000 ($1,182 USD) for gold, RM3,000 ($709 USD) for silver, and RM2,000 ($473 USD) for bronze.
There are other forms of support for U.S. Olympians, as well, including health insurance that’s provided courtesy of Elite Athlete Health Insurance. Olympic athletes can also apply for special grants, including college tuition assistance through the SOPC’s Athlete Career and Education program.
While the UK does not offer specific medal bonuses, it does devote £125 million ($162 million USD) of government and lottery funds to Olympic and Paralympic sports each year, some of which goes to annual athlete stipends. Current funding amounts by sport are listed here. UK Olympic medalists get a stipend of $36,000 USD per year to train and compete.
How much do Olympic athletes – who do not win medals – earn?
But what about athletes that compete but don’t medal? Other than the thrill of competition, they have to fight hard for other compensation.
In the US, track and field stars, each in the top 10 nationally in their events, make an average of less than $15,000 annually.
Many of the over 500 US Olympians have to find other ways to make ends meet.
Meanwhile, IOC members get paid more to watch the Olympics ($7,000 USD for 2.5 weeks of work) than most athletes will make competing in the games. According to a survey conducted by the Associated Press, 58% of Olympic athletes said they did not consider themselves financially stable. Many of the comments were similar to the following:
“Can’t train without funds, but trying to get workaround training is not easy, and [you’re] continually told if you miss sessions you don’t get selected.”
While medal bonuses are a nice way to reward (both summer and winter) athletes financially for a big, big accomplishment, many will never enjoy the steady income that comes with a corporate sponsorship, making what they endure to compete all the more impressive.