The Winter Olympics don’t really represent the world: Costs, climate and quotas keep the majority off the podium


In his first few years within the sport, snowboarding with associates, he attracted a whole lot of consideration.

That is 5 instances greater than the variety of groups represented within the first Winter Video games in Chamonix, France in 1924.

However athletes from Africa, South Asia, in addition to these from smaller island nations nonetheless discover themselves struggling to qualify for competitors within the Winter Olympics as a consequence of hotter climates, the prohibitively excessive price of kit, lack of infrastructure and restricted alternatives to observe and compete.

And one athlete and his coaches that CNN interviewed for this story warn that continental quota methods that allowed nations and areas with smaller Winter Olympic delegations the chance to ascertain and increase in sliding sports activities in PyeongChang 2018 have been scrapped forward of Beijing, with a knock-on impact on African nations.

A push for variety, with restricted success

Extra nations are making their debut within the Winter Olympics.

Saudi Arabia and Haiti every despatched an alpine skier to Beijing whereas Nigeria and Eritrea competed within the Winter Video games for the second time after making their debut in PyeongChang 2018. Actually, eight African nations despatched athletes to South Korea 4 years in the past, a report quantity.

However simply 5 African nations participated on this 12 months’s Video games, the place the medal tables have been dominated by athletes from Europe, North America and Asia.

European and North American dominance within the Winter Video games can partially be defined by the truth that their climates, the place ice and snow are extra plentiful, lend themselves to winter sports activities.

However local weather is not the one issue affecting Olympic participation — in the case of illustration on the Winter Video games, there may be additionally an enormous hole between wealthier and poorer nations.

At PyeongChang 2018, no athlete from Africa, Central or South America gained a medal, whereas Norway — one of the world’s wealthiest countries but with a population of just about five million — topped the medal desk because it did at Beijing 2022.

The Worldwide Olympic Committee (IOC) says it “goals to make success on the Video games achievable by everybody.”

It allocates a “substantial portion” of revenue from the Video games to athletes and coaches by means of particular person Nationwide Olympic Committees (NOCs) as a part of the Olympic Solidarity Plan to assist “athletes and coaches from nations with the best monetary want.”

Some 429 athletes from 80 NOCs have been awarded scholarships forward of Beijing to “help qualification efforts,” based on the IOC. However European athletes nabbed almost 69% of 429 scholarships awarded by the IOC earlier than the Beijing Video games. African athletes took house round 4% of these 429 scholarships.

Solely NOCs “whose athletes had a confirmed winter sports activities observe report” had entry to this system, the IOC mentioned.

In the meantime, 236 athletes (139 males and 97 girls) who obtained these particular person athlete scholarships finally certified to participate within the Video games.

Athletes in Europe benefited probably the most from these scholarships, receiving greater than $5 million. Athletes in Asia obtained $955,003, the Americas $944,917, Oceania obtained $441,000 and Africa $177,000.

European athletes obtained most funding from Olympic scholarships forward of 2022 Winter Video games

Of the $7.5 million in scholarships issued forward of Beijing 2022, athletes from Europe collectively obtained greater than $5 million whereas athletes in Africa obtained simply $177,000, based on the 2017-2020 IOC Olympic Solidarity report.

Olympic Scholarships for athletes allotted to Nationwide Olympic Committee (NOC) forward of Beijing 2022

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Supply: Worldwide Olympic committee

Scholarships make up simply part of Olympic Solidarity help packages designed collectively by the IOC and NOCs, which additionally direct funds — derived from Olympic income — in the direction of coaching of coaches, sports activities directors and selling the Olympic values, based on the IOC.

CNN has reached out to the IOC for an extra breakdown of funding.

Racial variety not mirrored

On a nationwide stage, the composition of delegations usually is not very racially various.

“There have been Black medalists from the US and Canada and from Germany. I do not know of another Black medalists aside from these three nations,” Olympic historian Invoice Mallon advised CNN Sport.

Black athletes have confirmed essential to Staff USA’s Olympic and Paralympic success within the Summer time Video games.

However whilst Black athletes gained medals at Beijing — speedskater Erin Jackson brought home gold, whereas bobsledder Elana Meyers Taylor turned the most decorated Black athlete in Winter Olympics history — White athletes nonetheless made up the vast majority of Staff USA on the Video games this 12 months.

Previous to Beijing, the US has solely had round 25 Black representatives on all of their varied Winter Olympic groups, with over half of them in bobsledding, based on Mallon.

In 1988, Debi Thomas turned Staff USA’s first Black Olympic Winter medalist, successful bronze within the women’ determine skating competitors, and Vonetta Flowers turned the primary Black athlete to ever win gold within the Winter Video games, when she drove to victory within the two-woman bobsled with Jill Bakken in 2002.

Hockey participant Jarome Iginla turned the primary Black man to win gold on the identical Video games when Canada triumphed over the US.

4 years later, speedskater Shani Davis turned the primary African American athlete to win a person gold medal in Turin, Italy.

Total, there have been a comparatively small variety of Black determine skaters, and so they have hardly ever excelled on the Olympic stage. Although she demonstrated technical excellence in her routines, Black French skater Surya Bonaly by no means gained an Olympic medal.

Surya Bonaly of France performs a backflip in her free skate routine in the women's Olympic figure skating in Nagano on February 20, 1998.
Bonaly carried out a one-bladed backflip on the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics — an unlawful transfer that was perceived as an act of defiance to the judges — which she landed on one foot.

That transfer continues to be unlawful and has by no means been tried since in an Olympic competitors.

“They wish to maintain the ladies fairly, in a particular manner,” Bonaly advised CNN Sport as she mirrored on her profession. Although now, based on Bonaly, “persons are altering and attempting to problem themselves, and attempt to have extra persona in their very own model. And that is good. And it is extra accepted.”

Bonaly added: “Now, again then … you solely got here from one mould, a method.”

Black athletes at the moment are prevalent in sliding sports activities: African American girls comprise a majority of America’s Olympic bobsled crew.

Nathan Chen skates during the Men's Free Skating program at Beijing 2022 on February 10, 2022.

Asian American athletes, together with determine skater Nathan Chen and snowboarder Chloe Kim, have additionally had a commanding presence at this 12 months’s Video games.

4 of the six Staff USA singles determine skaters have been Asian American: Karen Chen, Nathan Chen, Alysa Liu and Vincent Zhou. Madison Chock competed within the ice dancing occasion, whereas Abby Roque was the primary Indigenous girls’s hockey participant in US crew historical past.

Pay to play economics

Consultants say that economics — not simply expertise — performs an enormous half in whether or not athletes are in a position to take part within the Olympics.

“That notion of economics could be very key as a result of we’re sports activities reminiscent of snowboarding, bobsledding, determine skating — and that gear alone prices a lot,” Akilah Carter-Francique, govt director of the Institute for the Examine of Sport, Society and Social Change at San Jose State College advised CNN Sport.

“Pay to play will not be accessible to anybody however folks with cash,” Shireen Ahmed, senior contributor with CBC Sports activities, advised CNN.

“It turns into not only a racialized difficulty, it is a class difficulty, and people two issues go hand-in-hand. Not all people’s going to be a working-class hero,” she mentioned.

With stories of parents remortgaging their homes, working lengthy hours and decreasing bills to facilitate their kids’s Olympic goals, it comes as no shock that monetary obstacles in winter sports activities might be prohibitive.

Ghana’s first skeleton Olympian Akwasi Frimpong advised CNN Sport that competing at an elite stage prices round $250,000 a 12 months, which might pay for a devoted full-time sliding coach, a push coach, a energy and conditioning coach, bodily therapist, a mechanic, sliding gear, lodge, air journey, floor transportation and meals.

“This doesn’t embody additionally having a household and a mortgage to pay,” he mentioned, including that sliding sports activities athletes would anticipate to pay $80,000 to compete in smaller, non-Olympic occasions, exterior of the Olympic season.

Jamaica’s first Olympic alpine skier Alexander advised CNN: “I am competing with folks which were snowboarding because the age of two, ski racing because the age of 4, and their dad and mom have put $50,000 a 12 months into their enhancements whereas they have been younger.”

“And now, their nationwide ski federation or native membership is placing in $150,000-250,000 a 12 months for his or her development,” he mentioned.

In 2020, 58% of almost 500 athletes surveyed by the athletes’ rights group International Athlete mentioned they didn’t contemplate themselves financially steady.

The athletes who participated within the survey hailed from 48 nations. 44% have been actively competing with sport as their major occupation and 31% of the athletes have been Olympians.

Shiva Keshavan, a six-time Olympian and India’s solely Olympic competitor in luge within the 2018 Winter Video games advised CNN that European delegations, which have a greater system of recruitment and employment for athletes, dominate Olympic winter sports activities.

“Athletes that come from creating sport nations typically have extra of a problem as a result of you do not have the methods in place that allow a profitable profession.

“Typically, athletes are having to take care of coaching with much less, with worse gear or having to do their very own logistics and, typically, and not using a coach,” he added.

Many elite skiers, snowboarders and ice skaters take costly personal classes, rent coaches or attend personal faculties to facilitate their coaching as they’re rising up.

Bode Miller — probably the most adorned US Olympic skier, with one gold, three silver and two bronze medals — attended Carrabassett Valley Academy in Maine on a scholarship and said in 2021 that he “would not have been in a position to go if not for beneficiant folks in my small city of Franconia.”

Dad and mom with means can anticipate to pay as a lot as $64,050 to ship their kids to the academy, which boasts that it has “earned extra Olympic medals for snowboarding and snowboarding than some small nations.”

Privately educated athletes constituted 30.3% of athletes who participated within the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, according to a 2017 research revealed within the journal Public Well being.

The research analyzed sociodemographic information for all athletes representing Canada, the US, Nice Britain and Australia in Sochi. 94.9% of winter athletes have been White.

“In case your dad and mom ski, nearly actually, you’ll ski,” Alexander advised CNN.

“If we have a look at minorities in America or in England, most of them are first- or second-generation immigrants, so they do not have as a lot disposable revenue as their White counterparts,” Alexander mentioned.

Including that he does not assume” winter sports activities are racist in any respect,” Alexander says variety will proceed to develop in winter sports activities.

“I simply assume that as an increasing number of minorities get equal therapy, get equal pay, and as an increasing number of minorities unfold out from city facilities by advantage of know-how … then I imagine the tide will flip.”

In an announcement despatched to CNN, the IOC mentioned it “absolutely helps variety and inclusion within the Olympic Video games, in addition to clear and truthful qualification methods that apply equally to all athletes wishing to qualify for the Olympic Video games.”

“We’ve got to strike a stability between attracting one of the best athletes on this planet and universality,” it added.

“Some sports activities in all actuality are extra accessible,” James Macleod, IOC Director of Olympic Solidarity and Nationwide Olympic Committees Relations advised CNN Sport, referencing operating the 100 meters.

“However you possibly can’t sail a crusing boat tomorrow, until you’ve got obtained entry to at least one, or experience a horse or ski down a mountain. And there is components in that which are socio-economic, which are political, which are local weather pushed,” he mentioned.

“And that is not one thing that us on the IOC are going to alter.

“All sports activities have totally different ranges of entry,” Macleod mentioned, including that that is one thing the worldwide federations of every sport “tries to have a look at.”

The IOC mentioned that qualification methods are developed and put in place by worldwide federations “to make sure a good and credible course of for athletes to qualify for the Olympic Video games based on their sports activities’ buildings and priorities.”

“Collectively, the qualification methods enable variety on the Olympic Winter Video games, nonetheless, this isn’t essentially mirrored at every self-discipline stage in each sport,” it added.

Infrastructure challenges

Winter sports activities infrastructure is properly established in some elements of Asia — notably in Japan, South Korea and China. However it stays an “unexplored market” in India, Keshavan mentioned.

“For India, a rustic that has much more pure assets for winter sports activities, in comparison with China, or Japan or Korea due to the Himalayan Mountain vary, it’s a large alternative.

“We do not actually have the form of infrastructure: ski resorts, large sports activities services,” he mentioned.

This 12 months, a single athlete, Mohammad Arif Khan, represented India’s almost 1.4 billion folks, having certified within the slalom and large slalom occasions.

Khan completed forty fifth within the large slalom. India has by no means gained a medal on the Winter Video games and doesn’t have a outstanding winter sports activities federation, Keshavan advised CNN Sport.

Shiva Keshavan of India reacts following run 3 during the Luge Men's Singles on day two of the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympic Games.

“After all, it’s tougher for athletes from these nations to coach at an elite stage since you want entry to a sure customary of ice high quality which is maintained. You must have modified slopes, it is advisable to have sure gear,” he mentioned.

“Skiers from India and Pakistan, even throughout Southeast Asia, Oceania, should journey and go to Europe for coaching,” he added.

Athletes and politicians alike are hopeful that South Asia will turn into a winter sports activities vacation spot: Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan just lately expressed optimism that the northern metropolis of Skardu would flip right into a world winter sports activities vacation spot in years to come back.

Frimpong, the Olympian from Ghana, advised CNN that folks do not essentially see the shortage of variety in winter sports activities as illogical as a result of many nations get little to no snow.

“However that does not matter,” he defined. For six months of the 12 months, skeleton athletes can train in pushing the sled, he mentioned.

“You are able to do most of that in your personal nation in Africa. We do observe and discipline coaching, we do weightlifting, I will have the ability to check for 3, 4 months at a time in areas the place there are tracks. It isn’t prefer it’s unimaginable,” he mentioned.

“Infrastructure will not be one thing that the IOC invests in,” Macleod advised CNN including: “That is inside the remit of the nationwide authorities.”

“Typically, when we now have this dialogue about African participation and in winter sports activities, the fact is that inside African nations, there may be not the infrastructure,” Macleod mentioned.

“We because the IOC should not going to begin constructing ice rinks throughout Africa — that isn’t one thing that’s in our mission. That has to come back by means of the nationwide governments, however the packages that we provide are grassroots and expertise identification packages,” he added.

“Every of the 206 Nationwide Olympic Committees on this planet has totally different priorities. When a NOC seems at our packages or seems at their very own growth alternatives, they are going to say, ‘Really, we’re not going to spend money on winter sports activities as a result of that is not a precedence for us.’

“‘We will spend money on athletics, rowing or no matter.’ And they’ll at all times should make that alternative of the place they are going to put their funding and what packages from our facet they are going to apply for,” he mentioned.

“We put on the disposal of our stakeholders — whether or not it is NOCs or the IFs (worldwide federations) — a spread of alternatives, however we aren’t going to enter a rustic and say this has obtained to be your precedence. They’ll resolve on their very own priorities,” he mentioned.

Illustration issues

Carter-Francique advised CNN that whereas the Olympics is billed as a chance for all to take part, this isn’t mirrored in delegations’ last choices.

“For a lot of, the important thing to involvement in a selected sport is seeing your self,” she added.

In winter sports activities particularly, there are a scarcity of growth packages to encourage underserved communities to take part, mentioned Carter-Francique.

“In case you do not see your self as a consultant in that house, the chance that you’d push to attempt to enter an area and be the primary or be the one is one which not many individuals would do,” she added.

Some sports activities, like soccer, basketball, and even tennis, are extra accessible as a result of coaching services and gear might be cheaper, Carter-Francique mentioned.

“However the alternative to entry a ski resort, a determine skating rink, a bobsled facility — and have the bobsled — could be very restricted typically,” she added.

Ahmed additionally factors to an absence of Muslim illustration within the Winter Olympics, which is opposite to the Summer time Video games.

“We see a normal development in … Summer time Video games — you’ve got obtained Central Asian athletes doing a whole lot of weightlifting. You’ve got obtained Center Japanese girls doing judo, judokas, or karate, artists and athletes,” Ahmed added.

Ditching continental quotas a step backwards for inclusion

Frimpong and Nigeria’s Simidele Adeagbo turned the primary African skeleton racers to compete at PyeongChang 2018 following the introduction of the Worldwide Bobsleigh and Skeleton Federation’s (IBSF) continental quota system.

However the IBSF and the IOC opted to revoke the continental quota for the Beijing Video games — one thing coaches had warned would ship a “crushing blow” to African athletes hoping to take part in winter sports activities.

Coaches Brian McDonald and Zach Lund warned the IOC in a December 30, 2021 electronic mail seen by CNN that “inequitable quotas that did not take into consideration the huge hurdles African athletes should clear with a purpose to practice and aspire to be Winter Olympians.

“The dream of so many Africans to observe and be impressed by fellow Africans competing within the Winter Olympic Video games will bear long-lasting fruit for Olympic sport,” they wrote.

Akwasi Frimpong of Ghana starts his men's skeleton training session at the Olympic Sliding Centre, during the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympic Games on February 12, 2018.
Simidele Adeagbo of Nigeria reacts as she finishes a run during the Women's Skeleton on day eight of the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympic Games on February 17, 2018.

“An exclusion shall be a crushing blow to African athletes who labored so laborious and who dared to dream what as soon as appeared unimaginable,” they added within the electronic mail.

The quota for sliding sports activities was eliminated forward of Beijing — a call which instantly affected Frimpong.

“Giving an athlete a quota place, which isn’t based on the qualification standards, would consequently indicate the exclusion of one other athlete certified within the present qualification system,” an IOC consultant advised Frimpong’s coaches in a January 12 electronic mail seen by CNN.

“I certified as Ghana’s first skeleton Olympian, and the primary Black male skeleton athlete ever in historical past on the Olympic Video games, each on this planet in addition to for Africa,” Frimpong advised CNN.

Frimpong was 99th in world rankings forward of PyeongChang and certified by means of the quota system.

“Now, I’m 36 factors increased than I used to be, which suggests I’m 63 on the world rating. I wanted to be within the prime 60 which is the prerequisite to qualify for this Olympic Video games — to have the ability to qualify outright,” he advised CNN.

On December 29, hoping to compete in three last races and acquire sufficient factors to make the highest 60, Frimpong examined optimistic for Covid-19 and was unable to compete. He didn’t qualify for the Winter Olympics.

Frimpong mentioned his pre-Covid score meant “I might probably nearly qualify outright, which means that I’m nearly as good — perhaps inferior to the gold medalist or the highest 10 Europeans or in any respect — however I am ok to be on this planet class sport that’s dominated by Europeans, westerners.”

Frimpong mentioned his coaches emailed the IOC asking them to reinstate a continental quota for all winter sports activities “for certified African athletes who can safely compete.”

“We’re not asking them to remove a spot from another nations, we’re not asking them to offer us a free manner, or a free card.

“But when there are African athletes in winter sports activities which are near qualifying, which suggests they’re aggressive and certified and might safely compete, that quota needs to be in place till there’s sufficient African athletes,” he added.

In an announcement despatched to CNN, the IBSF confirmed that the continental quota spot was not included within the Olympic Qualification System for Beijing 2022.

“To handle Rising Nations and their wants, the IBSF established a wider Improvement Program which targeted as talked about on Rising Nations however equally on gender fairness in supporting athletes on their qualification pathway to the Olympic Winter Video games Beijing 2022,” the group mentioned in an announcement.

No athlete representing an African NOC has ever gained a medal.

“We have been trying ahead to seeing an increasing number of Africans compete in 2022. And now it is lower than half, or not less than half of what it was in 2018, so it is disappointing. The message is obvious that inclusiveness will not be a precedence,” Frimpong added.

However there may be hope — even when just for a choose few athletes.

American bobsledder Meyers Taylor’s bronze within the two-woman bobsled on Saturday gave the 37-year-old her fifth Olympic medal as she surpassed Davis’ 4. Meyers Taylor is now probably the most adorned lady Olympic bobsledder ever.

When requested about passing Davis’ report saying, she mentioned: “That’s overwhelming. It is so loopy to listen to that stat and to know that I am a part of a legacy that is greater than me. Hopefully, it simply encourages an increasing number of Black athletes to come back out to winter sports activities and never simply Black athletes, winter sports activities for everyone.

“We would like all people to come back out whatever the coloration of your pores and skin. We would like winter sports activities to be for everyone, no matter race, no matter socio-economic class. I believe the extra variety we now have, the stronger our sport might be.

“So, hopefully, that is simply the beginning of an increasing number of folks popping out and attempting winter sports activities.”

UPDATE: This story has been up to date to mirror the IOC’s most up-to-date particular person Olympic Solidarity scholarship information.

CNN’s Homero De La Fuente contributed reporting.


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