The economics of sport

03 Jun 2016

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PwC study seeks to benchmark Olympic medals tally

With the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro fast approaching, speculation turns once again to how many medals each country will win. So PwC economists have stepped up to the starting blocks to produce some benchmarks against which performance at the 2016 Olympics can be measured.

The following economic and political factors were found to be statistically significant in explaining the number of medals won by each country at previous Olympic Games:

  • Size of economies (measured by GDP at purchasing power parity (PPP) exchange rates)
  • Performance in the previous two Olympic Games
  • Whether the country is host nation

In general, the number of medals won increases with the population and economic wealth of the country; but there are exceptions like Jamaica and Kenya. Jamaica, for example, is projected to win 0.4 medals in Rio for every $bn of GDP, while the same ratio is only around 0.02 for the UK and Russia, and around 0.005-0.006 for the US and China.

“David can sometimes beat Goliath in the Olympic arena, although superpowers like the US and China continue to dominate the top of the medals table,” says PwC chief economist John Hawksworth.

“Our experts, who have been preparing such estimates since 2000, based their forecast model on economic and political factors. We in Hungary are more confident about the number of Hungarian medals, and expect to rank higher than 18th place in the medal table,” added Zoltán Katona, Senior Manager at PwC Hungary’s Advisory practice.

In the extract below, our model estimates the top 12 medal-winning countries in Rio compared to London 2012 – for the full table of 30 countries see later in the release.

Country

Model estimate of medal total in Rio 2016

Medal total in London 2012

Difference

1. US

108

103

+5

2. China

98

88

+10

3. Russia

70

81

-11

4. Great Britain

52

65

-13

5. Germany

40

44

-4

6. Australia

35

35

0

7. France

34

34

0

8. Japan

33

38

-5

9. South Korea

27

28

-1

10. Italy

26

28

-2

11. Brazil

25

17

+8

12. Ukraine

20

20

0

Past Olympic performance is important, reflecting the stronger sporting traditions in some countries, and the level of government funding for Olympic sports. Adds John Hawksworth: “We can see this effect at work in China recently, where state support contributed greatly to their Olympic success in Beijing and London.”

Some of the more interesting conclusions to be drawn from the PwC model are:

  • The model suggests that once again, the US will head the table, capturing a few more medals than in London. China will again be in second place in the table.
  • Now it is no longer the host country, Great Britain may find it difficult to match its exceptional performance in London 2012 – though the PwC model suggests it should remain as high as fourth in the medal table. This reflects the success of carefully targeted government support in Britain that focuses on the strongest medal contenders.
  • Host nations generally ‘punch above their weight’ at the Olympics, which bodes well for the Brazil team in Rio, despite the country’s recent economic problems. The model projects they could win around 25 medals in Rio, up from 17 in London.
  • Of the under-performing nations relative to population and GDP, the model still suggests that India leads the way; though if it achieves the model target of 12 medals in Rio, this would be double the haul the country achieved in the London Olympics.
  • All models are subject to margins of error and can never take full account of the human factor of exceptional individual performances.

Country

Model estimate of medal total in Rio 2016

Medal total in London 2012

Difference

1. USA

108

103

+5

2. China

98

88

+10

3. Russia

701

81

-11

4. Great Britain

52

65

-13

5. Germany

40

44

-4

6. Australia

35

35

0

7. France

34

34

0

8. Japan

33

38

-5

9. South Korea

27

28

-1

10. Italy

26

28

-2

11. Brazil

25

17

+8

12. Ukraine

20

20

0

13. Canada

17

18

-1

14. Netherlands

17

20

-3

15. Spain

17

17

0

16. Cuba

16

15

+1

17. Belarus

13

12

+1

18. Hungary

13

18

-5

19. India

12

6

+6

20. Kazakhstan

12

13

-1

21. Kenya

11

11

0

22. Jamaica

10

12

-2

23. New Zealand

10

13

-3

24. Poland

10

10

0

25. Iran

8

12

-4

26. Romania

8

9

-1

27. Azerbaijan

8

10

-2

28. Czech Republic

8

10

-2

29. Denmark

7

9

-2

30. Turkey

7

5

+2

Top 30 total medals

771

801

-30

Other countries

190

160

+30

Total medals

961

961

0

Note: the table shows rounded medal estimates from the model, but the country rankings reflect unrounded model estimates.

Source: PricewaterhouseCoopers model estimates using data for actual medals won in London 2012 that takes accounts of medals reallocated after the Games (e.g. due to drug use violations) where a firm decision has been made on this by the Olympic authorities as of late May 2016. For the sake of comparability, we assume the same total number of medals are awarded in Rio as in in London.

  1. This assumes Russian track and field athletes being allowed to compete in Rio. An IAAF decision on this is due on 17th June. If Russian athletes are not able to compete, this will have a material impact on the medal totals of other countries, and we may issue an updated set of projections in that event.
  2. Model estimates of Rio 2016 Olympics medal totals as compared to London 2012 results
  3. The information in this press release is drawn from the full study produced by the UK firm of PwC entitled Economic Briefing Paper: Modelling Olympic Games performance. This paper updates similar studies published at around the time of the 2000, 2004, 2008 and 2012 Olympics.

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