Home advantage, strong government support for sport and recent rapid economic growth could see China go head to head with the US at the top of the Beijing Olympic Games medals table in August, according to new analysis by economists at PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP.
The analysis suggests that Great Britain would do well to match its ‘above par’ haul of 30 medals in Athens. A target of 28 medals in Beijing, in line with Sydney, would be a more realistic benchmark against which to assess the performance of the British Olympic team according to the analysis.
Meanwhile, despite it being nearly two decades since the fall of the Berlin Wall, many former Eastern bloc countries are expected to win significantly more medals than would be predicted by the size of their economies. The benefits of these countries’ earlier “planned” approach to Olympic sport were still evident in their Sydney and Athens medal tallies and this is expected to continue in Beijing.
This is the third time that PricewaterhouseCoopers has published an analysis of how medal performance at the Olympic Games can be linked to such factors as past performance, economics and political planning.
In producing the benchmark medals figures – which should be interpreted as targets rather than predictions – the following factors were found to be statistically significant:
· Average income levels (measured by GDP per capita at PPP exchange rates)
· Whether the country was previously part of the former Soviet/communist bloc (including Cuba and China)
· Whether the country is the host nation; and
· Medal shares in the previous Olympic Games.
John Hawksworth, head of macroeconomics at PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP and author of the report says:
“In general, the number of medals won increases with the population and economic wealth of the country. David can sometimes defeat Goliath in the Olympic arena, although superpowers like the US, China and Russia continue to dominate the top of the medals table.”
Some of the more interesting conclusions to be drawn from the PricewaterhouseCoopers model are:
· As the host nation in Beijing and an economy which has grown very strongly since 2004, the medal ‘target’ of 88 for China according to our model is much higher than its actual medal totals in Athens (63) or Sydney (59); in fact, the model predicts that China may be very slightly ahead of the US (87), although this difference is well within the margin of error of the model so the race for top place is really too close to call based on this analysis.
· Russia is projected by the model to continue to perform strongly relative to the size of its economy in third place (79 medals), well ahead of Germany (43) and Australia (41) in fourth and fifth places; based on past performance, however, there is a good chance that all three of these countries could out-perform their model medal targets given their strong Olympic traditions.
· The two countries with by far the largest populations in the world are China and India, but their past Olympic performances could be not be more different: China won 63 medals in Athens while India won only one (the same as in Sydney); the model can explain some of this divergence, but still suggests that India is a significant underperformer, with a model target of 6 medals for Beijing. The most plausible explanation is that, with the exception of hockey, Indian sport tends to be focused on events that are not included in the Olympics, most importantly cricket; China, by contrast, is an example as noted above of the effectiveness of state planning in sport, comparable to the former Soviet bloc countries.
· The model estimates suggest that European countries such as France, Italy and the Netherlands should be pleased if they can match their Athens medal totals, which were generally somewhat above the levels predicted based on the size of their economies and the lack of Soviet-style state support for sport in these countries.
· For Great Britain, the model indicates a target for Beijing of 28 medals, the same as in Sydney, but down slightly from the ‘above par’ result of 30 medals in Athens.
· Countries where the model targets for Beijng are identical, or nearly identical, to actual medal totals in Athens include Ukraine, Romania, Spain, Hungary, Canada, Bulgaria, Turkey and the Czech Republic.
· Countries that the model suggests have the economic potential to do significantly better than in Athens include Poland, Brazil, Mexico and Indonesia; it will be interesting to see if they can improve their standings in Beijing.
The information in this press release is drawn from the full study entitled ‘Economic Briefing Paper: Modelling Olympic performance’, which is available from Rohan Hutchings at firstname.lastname@example.org