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6 August 2021updated 04 Sep 2021 12:10pm

UK Olympic success has come in spite of government spending, not because of it

Is there a correlation between government investment in sports and recreational facilities and Olympic medal count?

By Ben Walker

Does government investment in sports correlate with winning more medals at the Olympics? In Europe, the answer is no.

According to Eurostat data for 2019, the UK’s success at the Tokyo Olympics so far appears to have come in spite of government spending, not because of it. Just €61 (around £52) is spent per person on sports and recreation across the UK. This compares to the €108 (£92) spent per person across Germany, €203 (£172) in France, and €216 (£183) in the Netherlands.

UK success at the Tokyo Olympics has come in spite of government spending, not because of it
Government spending (€/per person) on sports and recreation facilities compared with the number of medals won at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics

Italian investment in sports and recreation is similar to that of the UK, at €79 (£67) per head. And it has had relative success in Tokyo, scoring 36 medals as of the morning of 6 August. 

The evidence here suggests that the UK, Italy, and to a lesser extent Germany get good value for money in terms of medals won when set against government investment. Sweden and Denmark, meanwhile, have worse value for money, even when calculating medals won per head of population.

Of the European nations so far winning medals, Sweden invests most in sport and recreation, at €267 (£226) per head, and yet so far has obtained only seven medals – one less than Croatia, which invests just €43 (£36) per head in sporting facilities.  

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Government investment in sports and recreation therefore may not be the most helpful indicator of Olympic success or sporting performance.