TRACK AND FIELD ATHLETES: THE 'PRODUCERS' OF SPORT
By Odera Umeujogi
Think of producers in the music industry. They dedicate hours of their time to creating melodies: the bases of songs listened to and enjoyed by millions of people. Yet, the pay most of them receive is average, especially compared to artists in the music industry. Likewise, track and field athletes endure up to 6 gruelling training sessions each week and provide entertainment for millions, only to receive average or minimal pay, especially compared to athletes in other high-profile sports. In parallel with music production, the sport of track and field (athletics) acts as a basis for several other sports. At the first recorded ancient Olympics in 760BC, there was only one event: a footrace. Millenia onwards, 33 sports are to be contested at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, of which more than 10 involve running as a fundamental part of the sport. Money is not where money is due.
The disparity of pay between track and field athletes and athletes in sports like tennis, baseball and football is worrying. Last year, at the US Open Tennis Championships, Taro Daniel left the gentlemen’s singles competition in the second round after losing to Rafael Nadal. For winning a total of one match, Daniel received $50,000 in prize money. Also last year, the British sprinter Chijindu Ujah won the men’s 100-metre sprint at the diamond league final in Zurich to win the diamond league trophy. The diamond league is the most elite global competitive series in athletics. For winning this trophy in a race against seven fierce competitors, after having won three prior races just to qualify for the final, Ujah, 2017’s best sprinter, received $50,000 in prize money: the same as Taro Daniel, who was ranked 121st in the world for men’s tennis in 2017. And to compare like positions, the American sprinter Justin Gatlin finished fourth in the diamond league final for the men’s 100m-metre sprint. The fourth-finisher at the US open received $920,000 in prize money, more than 150 times that of Gatlin’s, who earned just $6,000. This is anything but correct.
It should also not be forgotten that endorsement deals account for a lot of sportsmen’s income. Track and field athletes fall short again. Roger Federer, a tennis player, was paid nearly $60 million by sponsors alone in 2017. Usain bolt, who is branded as The Fastest Man in The World, made just $30 million from endorsements in 2016. Of course, it can be argued that sponsoring tennis players is more profitable for sporting brands like Nike and Adidas, but numbers suggest this is false. According to the BBC, 20 million Britons watched Usain Bolt cross the line to win gold in the 100-metre sprint at the 2012 Olympics. Contrastingly, at the Wimbledon Tennis Championships gentlemen’s singles final in 2017, the number of television viewers peaked at 6.4 million. Surely the large number of viewers of track and field should be taken advantage of by sporting brands? The reason for the lack of sponsorship in the sport is unclear.
Despite all, salaries of track and field athletes are improving. Usain Bolt earned $34.2 million in 2017, the highest income ever for track and field athlete in a year, although this is still more than 10 times the income of any other of these athletes.
Track and field athletes should, one day, earn what they deserve, but that day is most likely not in the near future.