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Money Smart Athlete Blog

Is there a way to pursue an Olympic career and still be able to pay the bills?

May 15, 2019 | Special Themes

By Constantinos Massonos, Contributor

 More than 10,000 athletes from all over the world have competed in the last Summer Olympics with the dream of winning a gold medal. While a small fraction of Olympians seizes the opportunity and becomes rich and famous following their dream, the majority is faced with the harsh reality of struggling to make ends meet on the road to the games. Getting a moment in the spotlight every four years, comes at a great cost: years of expensive training, coaching fees, high-priced equipment, health services, travel and lodging expenses.

Even if, the greatest part of the money generated by the Games is redistributed by the IOC (International Olympic Committee) to the National Olympic Committees, and a portion of the funds  ends up back to the athletes, athletes participating in the Olympics do not receive any direct compensation. That means athletes have to find other, sometimes creative, ways to pay the bills.

 Government Support

Most governments, with very few exceptions, directly or indirectly finance their country’s Olympic program. The level of funding depends on the nation’s economic status and how it values success in the Olympic games, so athletes from richer countries are more likely to receive financial support from the state than athletes from poorer countries. Also financial support is usually connected to performance so the most successful athletes and sports get the most money, which might leave athletes who didn’t have a breakthrough yet, still struggling.


Athletes trying to make their Olympic dreams come true, turn to thousands of generous donors through crowdfunding, to raise the money needed to go for gold. And while today, in the age of social media, crowdfunding has gone fully digital, a few decades ago athletes with fewer means had to start fundraising at their hometown by organizing bake sales, car washes, picnics and, if they were lucky enough, receive financial help from fundraising telethons.

The secret behind crowdfunding’s success is that sports fans want to be a part of their athletes’ success. They want to feel the pride of watching their favorite athlete competing in the Olympics and be able to say that they helped them get there.

 Own means/Family

Many of the early Olympians came from affluent families as they were able to pay their own way to the games. Today, many young Olympians live with parents, have a lot of their expenses covered by them and have to rely on university scholarships to take some weight off their parents’ shoulders. In extreme cases athletes’ parents have found themselves in financial trouble, facing even bankruptcy in order to finance their children’s dreams.

 Corporate Sponsors/Endorsement Deals

Before the 1970s, professional athletes were not allowed to participate in the games and the amateur participants could not receive any endorsement or prize money. Eventually this rule was relaxed in 1986 and professional athletes were allowed into the games. Today, many restrictions are still in place for companies who want to sponsor Olympians but are not directly sponsoring the Olympics, making it even harder for the lesser known athletes to attract sponsors.

The sponsorships market is a pretty competitive one. Big businesses are often more interested in sponsoring athletes with the greatest media coverage in order to maximize their brand exposure. Olympians have to compete with retired Olympic gold medal winners and star athletes from sports with greater TV coverage, to earn sponsorships and endorsements.

The younger, less known and upcoming athletes from less known sports, who haven’t been medaled yet might find it easier to seek sponsorships from local companies instead of big corporations. Some athletes have taken their search for sponsors to the extreme by auctioning sponsorships on eBay.

 Hold a regular job

Although training for the Olympics is a full-time job, some athletes may hold down regular or part-time jobs that give them the flexibility to train. From working as a nanny to working remotely as a business executive, athletes need to make money to support themselves. Many governments, may also offer public sector jobs to their athletes as an incentive to reach the podium.

There is a big financial disparity among Olympic Athletes and the majority may never get rewarded financially for competing in their sport. But for most athletes, competing isn’t about the money, it’s about pushing themselves and their sport to the extreme, something that is in the heart of the Olympic spirit. You can contact us at  to have a chat on how you can create alternative sources of income to fund your way to the Olympics.