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Track and field's decision to award prize money to Olympic gold medalists criticized

Olympics flame lit ahead of Paris games
Paris Olympics flame lit as athletes prepare for Summer Games 03:50

The decision to give track and field gold medalists $50,000 at the Paris Olympics is being criticized by Olympic sports bodies who said the move "undermines the values of Olympism and the uniqueness of the games."

Last week, World Athletics President Sebastian Coe broke with tradition when it announced that starting this summer, gold medalists across the 48 events on the track and field program would split $2.4 million from the sport's share of the International Olympic Committee's multi-billion dollar income.

 World Athletics got about $39.5 million from the IOC for the Tokyo Olympics held in 2021.

"The introduction of prize money for Olympic gold medalists is a pivotal commitment to empowering the athletes and recognizing the critical role they play in the success of any Olympic Games," Coe said in a statement during the announcement.

Olympic Prize Money
World Athletics President Sebastian Coe Gregorio Borgia / AP

Coe, a two-time Olympic champion in the men's 1,5000 meters and former lawmaker in the British parliament, said the money acknowledged that "athletes are the stars of the show."

The International Olympic Committee does not pay prize money, though many state governments and national Olympic bodies do.

The break in tradition, however, is not sitting well with the Association of Summer Olympic Committee, which issued a statement on Friday criticizing the move.

"For many, this move undermines the values of Olympism and the uniqueness of the games," the group, also known by the acronym ASOIF, said Friday. "One cannot and should not put a price on an Olympic gold medal and, in many cases, Olympic medalists indirectly benefit from commercial endorsements. This disregards the less privileged athletes lower down the final standings."

In its statement, the ASOIF said World Athletics did not inform nor consult them in advance of last week's announcement and raised concern that it was done one day after the ASOIF General Assembly. Coe is a member of the ASOIF ruling council.

"During the last days, ASOIF's membership has expressed several concerns about World Athletics' announcement," the group, based in the Olympic home city Lausanne, Switzerland, said.

ASOIF suggested that "not all sports could or should replicate this move, even if they wanted to." Paying prize money "goes against the principle of solidarity" and could take money away from governing bodies' work which was their duty compared to commercial promoters of sports events.

"If the Olympic Games are considered as the pinnacle of each sport, then the prize money should be comparable to, and commensurate with, the prizes given in the respective top competitions of each sport," the group said. "This is technically and financially unfeasible."

In its statement, ASOIF also fueled speculation about the IOC presidential contest next year when Thomas Bach's 12-year limit expires. However, his allies want the Olympic Charter changed to let him stay while Coe turns 68 this year and could be stopped by age limit rules.

The backlash from Olympic sports — whose leaders are among about 100 IOC members who elect the president — likely was predicted by Coe, who has elevated the issue of how to reward athletes in the often insular world of IOC politics.

The cash promise was popular with United States athletes in various sports preparing to compete in Paris, who can earn $37,500 from their team for gold medals, $22,500 for silver and $15,000 for bronze. The Paris Olympics start on July 26.

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