What are the Olympic rings made of

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Olympic games

The organizers

The organizers - that is, the respective cities to which the Olympic Games are awarded - have always had marketing interests.

  • 1924 in Chamonix: Winter Games are held for the first time. Rights: SWR
  • Up until the 1980s, the host cities financed the games primarily from municipal and state funds. In 1976 the Montreal Games left a $ 2 billion deficit in the municipal coffers. Rights: SWR

This becomes clearer at the Winter Olympics (OW) than at the Summer Games, because the former, from 1924 in Chamonix on, always took place in the interest of tourism and the organizers almost always had a considerable financial benefit, as the structural investments by the organizers themselves kept within limits. The O.W. von Lillehammer were the first where the follow-up costs exceeded the follow-up benefits, as facilities for the entire winter sports program were built in one region for part of winter sports (Nordic skiing and speed skating), without this being in line with local traditions.

At the Summer Games (O.S.) those of 1932 in Los Angeles were the first to generate a significant profit because all the sports facilities were already there. The American NOK has tried and lost the organizer in order to get part of the $ 1 million surplus. As a rule, the organization of the games was financed from municipal, state funds and lottery revenues and after 1932 the games of 1984 did not bring any profit to the organizer again: again in Los Angeles and initially fully privately financed, assets of $ 231 million could be booked. The O.S. from 1984 have become the calculation basis for all subsequent games.

The athletes - amateurs or professionals?

  • The amateur rule is an invention of the 19th century. In its original purpose, it served social exclusion. Rights: SWR

  • In many sports, in addition to the amateur associations, professional associations also existed, e.g. in boxing. Rights: SWR

In ancient times, no distinction was made between amateur and professional. The athletes were able to earn money at most of the sports festivals. At the Olympic and other periodic games, however, it was "only" about honor at first; but also about the amount of the entry fees at the next festivals, about the (often lifelong) provision and the fame. The "amateur of antiquity" is an invention of the end of the 19th century, a time in which Greek antiquity was often viewed as glorified. This supposed tradition with antiquity was invoked when defending amateur status in sport. The first amateur rules in the 19th century had a socially exclusive character, as they separated the working population from a "leisure class". An amateur was "who didn't have to earn money with his hands-on work". There were only a few well-off. In the clubs of "gentleman sport" one wanted to be among one's own kind. This was the case for the longest in rowing, where one wanted to differentiate oneself not only from professional athletes (e.g. professional world championships in sculling), but also from professional inland navigation. With the claim to demonstrate a national superiority with sport, the regulations were relaxed. In 1912 Sweden became the most successful nation, as it called up many athletes for military service and thus, as quasi state amateurs, gave them optimal training opportunities.

The athletes - employment or supply opportunities?

With regard to athletes, a distinction has to be made between employment and care opportunities. Top athletes most of the time had an opportunity to earn a living, i.e. they could live from their sport, but put little or nothing aside. Opportunities to make money existed in the marketing of the name, as a trainer, sports journalist and in a few sports as a professional athlete. All these areas were officially excluded from participation in the Olympic Games until 1981, even if this was no longer practiced as strictly in detail after 1945 and mainly still related to professional athletes.

Famous examples of early marketing opportunities for athletes can be found in figure skating (e.g. Sonja Hennie), swimming (Johnny Weismüller = Tarzan), boxing, and cycling. Today the list can be continued indefinitely. As a rule, however, it is still easier for men to market themselves than women today.

  • There have always been opportunities for amateurs to secure their livelihoods through sport, but only after their Olympic career. First famous example: the multiple Olympic champion Sonja Hennie. Rights: SWR

  • Swimmer and Olympic champion Johnny Weismüller first became known to many through his Hollywood role as Tarzan. Rights: SWR

In the Eastern Bloc countries, the athletes were subsidized by the state and supported by bonuses. With the introduction of Deutsche Sporthilfe and other western comparable organizations, the West began to follow suit in 1969. With the complete opening up to all athletes, regardless of their income type, the IOC took an important step in the direction of "equal opportunities" in 1981. However, the record sums that a few athletes can earn today remain questionable.

The media

The media have an interest in straightforward, predictable competitions. That is why they want to be able to influence the large amount of money that they have to pay in terms of broadcasting rights.

  • Hundreds of cameras present the athletes up close: every victory, every emotion increases the attractiveness of television sport. Rights: SWR
  • The huge sums devouring the rights, but also the costs of reporting, have to be refinanced, e.g. through advertising. Rights: SWR

So television changed the schedule of the games. Since American television has so far paid the largest amounts of all broadcasting stations, attractive decisions were made in accordance with the respective time difference so that they were in the USA during the prime airtime of the evening program. This was not always in the interests of the athletes.

Beach volleyball became an Olympic discipline in 1996, as the American broadcaster NBC wanted it to be and made its high license payments dependent on it. The spectator interest in this sport should increase and thus the sales value of beach volleyball should be improved. Good business as the station already owned the American beach volleyball rights.

The IOC and the international professional associations

The IOC and the international professional associations (with the exception of football) did not begin to build wealth until after 1972. The IOC was so financially weak that IOC President Brundage had his private office in Chicago do the IOC work and the IOC headquarters in Lausanne was only occupied by a part-time secretary and volunteer staff. Then the organizers successfully requested shares in the television money and meanwhile the Olympic rings and the term “Olympic” have also been successfully marketed through the "TOP program".

The IOC uses the funds:

  • on the one hand for yourself (expense allowance for the president, employees, committees)
  • for development programs (Olympic Solidarity) e.g. by sending trainers to the developing world
  • for the presentation of Olympic tradition (e.g. Olympic Museum)
  • for the efficiency of your own office

The IOC is a tax-privileged foundation under Swiss law that creates reserves in order to be able to cope with the failure of an Olympics from the respective interest.

  • IOC Museum in Lausanne. Maintaining the Olympic tradition is one of the most important, self-chosen tasks. Rights: SWR

The IOC has behaved economically very carefully in two ways: The Winter Olympics - a completely invented Olympic tradition anyway - were set to a different four-year rhythm in order to reduce the excessive demand every four years and thus increase the value of the product. And with the TOP program, a continuous basic demand for the Olympic trademarks was ensured even outside of the Olympic years.

Even if not all income of the IOC can be precisely documented - the economic upswing is obvious: e.g. in the representative buildings, Château Mon Repos, Château de Vidy (both on permanent loan from the city of Lausanne), the IOC headquarters and the Olympic Museum in Lausanne.

The dependence on the money of the economy and the media ensures the survival of the Olympic movement, but tempts to sell out Olympic symbols and ideas. And for unfair influence on important decisions: e.g. when the Games were awarded to Salt Lake City in 2002. For the first time, the IOC had to face the accusation that the votes of some of its members were bought. With cash payments and other material benefits.

The sponsors

The state used to be the main sponsor of the Olympic Games. Today it is above all the economy that expects the financial support to increase the sales of its products.

  • The world's largest lemonade maker sponsored the Atlanta games with $ 35 million and loads of cola. Rights: SWR
  • Coca-Cola involvement in the Olympic movement has a long tradition: it was there for the first time at the Games in Amsterdam in 1928. Rights: SWR

On one condition: it may advertise with the attribute "Olympic". At the O.S. Although neither jersey nor perimeter advertising is permitted, TV broadcasts of the games put the sporting goods and equipment manufacturers in the spotlight, for which the O.S. are a single commercial. This is not only evident when skiing, but also when it comes to training clothing and shoes for all athletes.

The individual marketing of individuals by business means that top athletes are becoming more and more independent of their national associations. The example of Ben Johnson and his disqualification in 1988 because of doping showed a new problem: If the image of the "clean athlete" is no longer met, the athlete has had its day as an advertising medium. The disqualification of the 100-meter Olympic champion generally harmed the marketing of athletes. Because it became clear how quickly an image can overturn, sponsors' investments in athletes have stagnated since 1988. However, investments in events have continued to increase significantly.

Many found the award of the O.S. to Atlanta in 1996 as unfair to competitor Athens. Athens would have had greater rights with regard to the first modern games a hundred years earlier. The O.S. of Atlanta were denounced as the "Coca-Cola Games" because of the location of the headquarters of Coca-Cola (the oldest sponsor of the O.S.). It was overlooked that Coca-Cola would always have won: because Coca-Cola Greece was one of the main sponsors of the competing Athens application.

© Text: Arnd Krüger / SWR