IOC rejects prize money for medallists from World Athletics

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has distanced itself from the groundbreaking move by World Athletics to offer money to Paris 2024 medallists, saying its role is to level the playing field and reduce the gap between the powerhouses and the rest.

World Athletics announced weeks ago that it would pay $50,000 (€46.7k) to gold medalists in Paris, becoming the first sport to introduce cash prizes at the Paris 2024 Olympic Games.

World Athletics President Sebastian Coe's announcement earlier this month that track and field winners at the Paris Games would receive such monies has sparked mixed reactions, especially within the IOC, as no other sports federation pays prizes to its athletes at the Olympic Games.

This is a symbolic break with the amateur past of the Olympic Games in one of the most important events. Amateurism, as we all know, has become a thing of the past as superstars with multi-million dollar contracts have competing in the Games for decades.

Coe's idea is to award about $2.4 million (€2.2m) to the gold medalists of the 48 events in the athletics program of the Paris 2024 Olympics, about $50,000 (€46.7k) to those who step up to the podium and sing their country's anthem. For the remaining podium finishers, the idea is to start awarding prizes in Los Angeles in 2028.

In response, IOC President Thomas Bach made his thoughts clear: International sports federations like track and field should focus on reducing inequalities between countries, not on handing out prizes to winners.

"International federations must treat all their member federations and their athletes equally and try to close the gap between the privileged and the less privileged or underprivileged," the German said.

The President of World Athletics, Coe, presenting medals in Budapest 2023. GETTY IMAGES
The President of World Athletics, Coe, presenting medals in Budapest 2023. GETTY IMAGES

He also admitted that he received money from the German committee for his gold medal in fencing in 1976. In fact, he is not against it, quite the opposite. According to Bach, national Olympic committees should be the ones to freely decide on athlete prizes as motivation, not the federations.

"Each pillar of the Olympic movement has its role to play. It is very clear what the responsibility of an international federation is and what the responsibility of a national Olympic committee is," he said.

Coe's move has been well received by some prominent athletes, but has provoked a negative reaction from leaders of other sports over concerns that it will further deepen the advantages of wealthy countries. Of course, everyone has a different opinion depending on their context and whether they see it as positive for their interests or not.

The Association of Summer Olympic International Federations (ASOIF) said it "undermines the values of Olympism," and the Association of National Olympic Committees of Africa described the move as "contrary to the fundamental principles of the Olympic Movement."