The Olympics, as it has come to be, is a celebration of the human spirit, sportsmanship, and sheer sporting talent. Every four years, the world is glued to the television sets, watching the success and trials of many an athlete.
Bishen Jeswant, the author of this piece, is a lawyer by profession and currently practices law with a leading Indian firm. He considers himself a cricket babbler who occasionally dabbles in other sports. He writes on the topics of sports analytics and has been a Statistics Sub-editor for ESPNcricinfo.
The Olympics, as it has come to be, is a celebration of the human spirit, sportsmanship, and sheer sporting talent. Every four years, the world is glued to the television sets, watching the success and trials of many an athlete. There are certain countries who have dominated the event in almost every category and then there are countries who secure very few medals owing to various reasons from lack of state support to insufficient sporting infrastructure in the country. This article looks at the nations that have bucked the trend in the Rio 2016 edition of the Olympics, by over performing despite their limited manpower/economic strength or even underperforming despite their vast resources, both men and money.
There are 207 nations/teams that participated in Rio 2016, including the Refugee Olympic Team. Only 86 countries managed to win a medal, with a large majority, 121 countries, going home with nothing to show for their efforts. The silver lining for India’s performance is that it still is among the group of 86 nations and not the bunch of 121. The analysis in this article will only pertain to the 86 nations that managed a medal; however, as a quick precursor here is a look at the five nations with the highest population and GDP among the 121 nations that did not win a medal.
Pakistan and Bangladesh feature high on both of the above lists, probably exemplifying the fact that human resource and GDP do not automatically translate to sporting success. However, objectively accounting for factors such as the sporting culture in a nation and the existing peace and security situation is impractical and nearly impossible. In light of this, weighting the medal count to population and GDP should provide an as-fair-as-possible estimate of which countries are over performing and which are underperforming.
We know that the United States of America topped the medal charts (gold 46, total 121) followed by Great Britain (27, 67) and China (26, 70). Considering that China finished first in 2008 and second in 2012, their third-place finish and haul of 70 medals in Rio 2016 is being considered a failed Olympic campaign by the 1.4 billion (or 140 crore) people back home in China. However, the 1,07,000 (one lakh and seventy thousand) in Grenada are probably celebrating their solitary silver medal earned by Kirani James in the Men’s 400m. Grenada’s population handicap is significant and, regardless of how encouraging or economically sound their government is (or talented their athletes are), will probably never be able to finish high up on the medals tally at any future Olympic games. Let us therefore level up the playing field and rank the nations in terms of medals weighted against population.
For e.g. Let us say Country A has a 1000 people and wins 10 medals. This means that Country A wins one medal for every 100 people. Country B, with a population of 5000 people, wins only five medals. This means that Country B wins one medal for every five people. Therefore, in our analysis, Country B would rank higher than Country A because they win more medals per capita.
Like in the Olympics, a country’s rank on the below table, has been determined in terms of number of the gold medals won and not the overall tally. Further, since the below table is intended to demonstrate sporting might, only nations that have won five or more medals have been considered (in order to avoid situations of a small country winning a single bronze medal and topping the chart). This unfortunately means that our beloved Grenada is out of contention.
Jamaica tops the table, with one in every 4,67,227 (less than five lakh) Jamaicans winning a gold medal at Rio 2016 and one in every 2,54,851 Jamaicans winning a medal of any colour. Jamaica finished 16th on the official medals tally, but moved up 16 places to grab the top stop in this analysis. India’s two medals means that only one in every 66,34,00,788 (about 66 crore) Indians managed a medal. This also means that India goes from joint 67th on the official medals tally (along with Mongolia), to the 86th and last position in this analysis. Remember that this does not make Indian the worst country in the world though, because there are 121 nations that did not win a single medal. Also, no reason to be too disheartened because, the United States, despite their domination of Rio 2016 are still 43rd in this analysis, thanks to their high population. The United States is the third-most populous country in the world after China and India.
Let us quickly compare the first placed Jamaica to last placed India. If Jamaica had the population of India along with the athletic ability of its own people, how many medals would it have won at Rio 2016? Since one in every 2,54,851 Jamaicans won a medal at Rio 2016, if they had a population of 1,32,68,01,576 (India’s population), Jamaica would have won a mind boggling 5206 medals, including 2839 of the gold variety. This, in other words, is the number of medals that India could be winning if we had the athletic ability of the Jamaicans. Admittedly, this does not take into account that only 974 medals (307 gold medals) were up for grabs at Rio 2016. Also, Jamaica did not win a single medal outside of athletics, which means that the available medals reduces even further as there were only 141 medals (47 gold medals) for athletics. Regardless, the above numbers do give us an indication of the extent of Jamaica’s over achievement and India’s underperformance, or a combination of the two.
The other factor against which the performance of teams at Rio 2016 is being weighted, is economic strength. Wealthier nations are expected have more sporting success because it is assumed that they have more resources that can be expended towards providing infrastructure, facilities, training and otherwise generally towards the development of sport. The gross domestic product (“GDP”), which is an aggregate of the measure of total economic production for a country, is an easily available indicator of economic health. There are various arguments for why the GDP is not an accurate measure of the economic situation of a country, but in the absence of any other uniform standard that is calculated the same way across nations, GDP is being used as the measure for this analysis.
Accordingly, if Country A with GDP of 10 Billion dollars, wins 10 medals (i.e. 1 Billion dollars per medal), they will trail Country B, who have won five medals with a GDP of only USD 2 Billion (i.e. 0.4 billion dollars per medal). The qualifications used for this analysis are the same as that used in the ‘Medals against Population’ section.
Once again Jamaica tops the table, earning a gold medal for every 2.3 billion dollars of its GDP, and a medal of any colour for every 1.3 billion dollars. Once again India are last in this analysis winning a medal for only every 1,144.7 billion dollars of its GDP, almost a thousand times worse than Jamaica!
When measured against GDP and Population, Jamaica is no longer the runt but wins by a staggering margin. For more such interesting reads and analysis, keep a look out for my articles!
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