First Look: Olympians in Debt

Tonight on Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel (10PM on HBO), there is going to be a segment that highlights the financial challenges that some athletes have in supporting their Olympic efforts. Here’s a preview:

Going For Broke: Athletes around the world are heading to PyeongChang, South Korea for the Winter Games next month, capping years of blood, sweat and tears. But unlike almost every other country, where Olympic programs deem athletes full-time paid government employees, the majority of American athletes receive little monetary assistance from the United States Olympic Committee (USOC), with more than a few living on or below the poverty line, funding their training and equipment through part-time jobs and online crowdfunding.

While high-profile athletes in high-profile sports are able to monetize their Olympic efforts, both to support training and then into their post-athletics career, many others struggle.

Here are a few more interesting excerpts from tonight’s show:

  • Jonathan Cheever is representing the U.S. as a top snowboarder at the upcoming Winter Olympics.  He says he had to spend about $30,000 last year out of his own pocket … training, buying equipment and flying himself to Olympic qualifiers. He says that the little help he got last year from the USOC – a $1,500 stipend, plus health insurance – only covered a fraction of his costs.
  • Records show that the USOC has roughly $500 million in cash and assets and is guaranteed another billion from TV rights alone over the next 15 years.
  • According to Ben Barger of the Athletes Advisory Council, just 6% of all the money the USOC brings in per year finds its way directly to athletes to help them live day to day.
  • The USOC claims on their website that they dedicate more than 90% of their expenditures to support U.S. athletes and National Governing Bodies. However, there are 47 different NGB’s each charged with running a given sport around the country, from youth competition on up and each with its own overhead and salaries to pay.

The overall topic of athlete financial security outside of the top leagues continues to be a big issue. We’ve seen challenges from female athletes regarding gender pay gaps, from college athletes who struggle even while on scholarship, from minor league players making less than minimum wage, and now from Olympians. Clearly this issue isn’t going away, so it’s important that we hear from the athletes and use their experiences to identify where changes can be made.

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