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BOA has to ensure value for money for its backers.

Byline: PETERSHARKEY

There must be someone, surely, who, in pursuit of a PhD awarded by a suitably obscure university, has embarked upon a detailed study correlating the progressively greater intensity of sporting celebration with the enhanced level of financial reward available to successful sportsmen and women.

Film footage of athletes making do with a pat on the back and a handshake after breaking a world record was commonplace up until twenty years ago. Yet once footballers went from enjoying a teammates' "well done" and a playful ruffling of hair after scoring a goal to celebrations bordering on the obscene within the space of a decade during the sixties and seventies, precedent was established.

Nowadays after powering through the finishing line record-breaking (or even plain old medal-winning) athletes insist upon a personal lap of honour, national flag draped over their shoulders, drinking in the crowd's rapturous applause. And why not? It is estimated that Olympic gold medal-winning athletes dedicate approximately 10,000 hours to training for their potentially life-changing moment. That equates to 250 working weeks, or almost five years of solid slog. No wonder they celebrate victory so exuberantly: for many, it represents the culmination of athletic endeavour and a welcome opportunity to reap financial reward from their national federation, sponsors and others.

Not as though British athletes winning gold at London's Olympics can expect to retire courtesy of their home federation. Stand atop the podium as a British Olympic champion and the BOA will eventually send you a cheque for pounds 10,000. Should our rowing eight strike gold, they'll receive pounds 1,250 apiece.

Those selected to represent Team GB must sign a 34-page contract with the British Olympic Authority which details precisely what athletes receive in terms of financial recompense should they strike gold.

By signing the agreement (an absolute condition of an athlete representing the nation), they become BOA 'property' for up to 48 hours after their gold medal success, during which they must attend a series of media conferences and make an appearance at a 'Celebration by Athlete' event.

Athletes are also expected to help both the BOA and sponsors benefit financially from their medal success, while there's a chance the athletes' image will eventually appear on a postage stamp (the Royal Mail plan an Olympic and Paralympic issue in September), although no payment is made for this. Of course, in addition to their immediate, post-victory BOA commitment, most gold medal-winning British athletes will have a number of sponsor-inspired opportunities to turn precious metal into real cash, although their counterparts in countries such as Russia and China will receive considerably more up front should they secure an Olympic victory.

Between 1996-2004, Russian athletes received $50,000 (around pounds 31,000) each for winning gold. At the time the bounty was introduced, this equated to the same cost as a small Moscow apartment.

By the time of the Beijing Olympics however the reward was increased to $160,000 (pounds 100,000), the same level as this year.

The most dramatic increase in what might be called 'centrally approved' financial reward has seen the value of a Chinese gold medal rise from pounds 1,625 (paid to 50 metre pistol gold winner Xu Haifend in 1984) to a tax-free payment of more than pounds 91,000 this year.

Once a sponsor's largesse is added to this total plus the financial benefits accruing from provincial sports federations, a gold-winning Chinese athlete can expect to pocket an average of $300,000.

Of course, most of Britain's big-name athletes could earn substantially more than this if they strike gold, although at present a number of lawyers and agents are poring over the Team Members Agreement to ensure that potential problems with existing sponsorship arrangements are quickly ironed out.

It has been suggested that Nike-sponsored athletes such as Paula Radcliffe and cyclist Mark Cavendish would be in breach of contract were they to appear on the medal podium (or even meandering around the Olympic Village) donning Adidas tracksuit and training shoes. Adidas have poured millions into their 33-year sponsorship deal with the BOA and expect a return on that investment in this of all years.

A handful of agents have suggested that the BOA were prepared to exclude the medal presentation ceremony from the athletes' legal obligation to wear Adidas kit, but this hardly seems likely as it would represent a level of commercial naivety one normally associates with the FA.

Instead, it appears the obligation will be enforced by the BOA, a stance which one lawyer described as being 'less relaxed' than in previous Olympic Games.

Jim Hardie of sports management company Apex said: "The hardening BOA stance is understandable because I imagine their deal with Adidas insists upon it. However, it should be noted that the requirement for British athletes to wear official kit at Olympic Games has always existed - it's just never been enforced.

"Nonetheless, it does put some highprofile athletes in a quandary as most have been supported financially by their sponsors for years and the last thing they want is to breach the Team Members Agreement and have the prospect of legal action hanging over them as they prepare for the Games."

It's a fair point, but the BOA requirements do not end at the Games' closing ceremony. Athletes are also obliged to retain "in perpetuity subject to reasonable wear and tear" one set of team clothing in order that they may make appearances on the BOA's behalf at any point between the end of the London Games and the opening of the Rio Olympics in 2016. The potential for dispute and post-Games legal argument will have lawyers whetting their lips.

Clearly then, while the intensity of athletic celebration and corresponding level of financial reward have increased markedly over the past half-century, it comes at a cost.

Lawyers, agents and sponsors will undoubtedly each have their say on this matter before the London Games get under way, but ultimately, the BOA have moved with the times too and must insist that their potentially controversial 'kit rule' is unilaterally enforced.

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Flag-waving athletes like Jessica Ennis could face conflicts between BOA responsibilities and personal sponsorship deals at the Olympics
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Mar 1, 2012
Words:1033
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