Olympic Rewards

In China, the Victors Really Do Get the Final Spoils

News | Jie Lian | September 2008

Chinese gold medalist Lu Bin (Photo: beijing2008.)

The Chinese National Sports Ministry will allocate 35,000 Euro (1Euro = 10.09 Chinese Yuan) as bonuses to each Chinese gold medal winner of the Beijing Olympic Games, which is 15,000 Euros more than in the Athens Olympic Games.

According to the rankings, Chinese athletes won 51 gold medals, 21 silver medals and 28 bronze medals this year, making a total of  100 medals. For the Athens Olympic Games in 2004, the Chinese National Sports Ministry allocated more than 31,330,000 RMB as a specific bonus for all the winners (32 gold medals, 17 silver and 14 bronze medals).

Besides the bonus from the ministry, extra prizes will also be distributed by the winners’ home provinces and several businesses. In 2004, Guangdong Province gave each gold medal winner 25,000 Euro, Yunnan Province 150,000 Euro and Shanghai 50,000 Euros each. Some of the winners got 100,000 Euro, plus houses or expensive cars and chances to be brand ambassadors for high profile advertisers.

The decision shows the new status of Olympic athletes here in China, reflecting a wave of national pride that has swept the country.

"Never before have the 1.3 billion Chinese been so wild with excitement," wrote Zhou Yan on the news portal www.news.cn.

This shows a striking contrast to most European countries, which also compensate winning Olympic athletes, but at a significantly lower level. For example, England allots the highest amount in Europe with 26,800 Euro, Germany allocates approximately 15,000 Euro for each gold medal winner, and Austria 13,000 Euro.

However, this does not reflect a lack of respect so much as other values, including ideals of sportsmanship and a view of the role of sports in the culture. These awards have made both the ministry and the athletes the focal point of controversy. Among other things, the announcement has helped confirm the new, exalted status sports figures are gaining in China, and that being an athlete is becoming a well-paid job. Some people argue that a medal cannot be worth so much to the national interest to justify this additional level of taxpayer support.

However, many Chinese seem pleased with the decision. To these, the medals represent their country, which load them with honors as well. Others worry about the rest of the Olympians, those who have worked just as hard but have come away with nothing. Among a total number of about 3,000 every year, some of the retired players are still able to get a good job. Another 40%, however, cannot be placed within a reasonable time and are still struggling to maintain a decent living standard. Quite a few athletes come from the countryside; they are usually trained from a very young age and get less education than others. If they retire from sports, no longer the center of public acclaim and without any medals, it can be very hard for them to continue.

Den Yaping, a retired world famous table tennis player, with some other members of the national committee of CPPCC (The Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference) has submitted a proposal to help retired players with nine-year compulsory education and occupation training in a planned and systematic way. Some experts pointed out that the best way for players is to set up a system life long support, similar to military pensions, giving them basic security and medical insurance and ensuring them against sudden misfortune.

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