EXCLUSIVE || “Winning medals in Olympics deserves cash awards,” says World Athletics Vice President Adille Sumariwala

Left: Neeraj Chopra, Right: Adille Sumariwalla. SOurce: X

Call it a game changer or something radical, the decision of World Athletics to award prize money to track and field athletes who win medals at the 2024 Paris Olympics and 2028 Los Angeles Olympics has been received with huge applause.

For old-timers, this decision may seem bizarre, for Olympic medals are about honour, patriotism and excelling for the nation. Perhaps, the athletics body had offered a hint of the change in philosophy years ago, when the IAAF (International Amateur Athletics Federation) changed its name to World Athletics (WA).

The prize money at an Olympics is not the sole criteria for athletes to push body and mind to win medals. “This is not an attempt to compete with any of the big leagues at all. All the athletics buffs know a huge amount of prize money is there, up for grabs in the Diamond League and more gala events. This is just a token amount,” said Adille Sumariwala, Vice President, World Athletics and President of the Athletics Federation of India (AFI).

Sumariwala recalled how even the Indian federation had changed its name from AAFI (Amateur Athletics Federation of India) to AFI (Athletics Federation of India, staying in sync with the world body. “What is wrong in prize money at an athletics programme in the Paris Olympics or LA. People go to watch live the superstars perform and put in their heart and soul. What the WA (World Athletics) decided was just a token reward for medals at the Olympics. This is fully justified for the athletes and there are many parameters which will be considered,” Sumariwala told RevSportz on Thursday.

The WA Vice President was not willing to get dragged into the amateur versus professional athletes’ debate. “What will happen at the Olympics podium is going to be the same, medal presentation etc, which will be done by the IOC (International Olympic Committee) and host city. We (WA) will transfer the money to the bank account of the athletes later. Yes, there will be verification of the athletes, if there are any doping incidents etc. The glory of a medal is sacrosanct, money from the world body is a small token and recognition, nobody should grudge it,” stressed Adille Sumariwala.

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For the record, the total prize money is $ 2.4 million , which has been “ringed in” from revenue share collection received from the IOC every four years. Each gold medal winner in Paris will be richer by $ 50,000. There will be cash awards also for the silver and bronze medal winners.
“The payment of prize money will depend upon the World Athletics ratification process, including athletes undergoing and clearing the usual anti-doping procedures,” said Lord Seb Coe, President, WA, in a statement on Wednesday.

Will such an introduction of money in track and field at Olympics put pressure on other international sports federations? “ Yes, other international sports federation will realise this is a big decision from WA and perhaps come up with their own plans. I mean, as an athlete at heart, I would like to see top performances being rewarded, whether it is the Olympic stage or other events. It can become a reality in a few more sports,” said Sumariwala.

Reminded about how the USA basketball “Dream Team” making a comeback of sorts at the 1992 Olympics in 1992 in Barcelona and 1996 Atlanta Olympics, Adille said “changes will happen.” It means, one could see more changes coming up. After all, someone like legend pole vaulter Sergei Bubka had made it a habit of “raising the bar” at invitational meets as he used to get massive appearance fee.

Certainly, World Athletics has stoked the fire and rich sports bodies like the ITF (International Tennis Federation) and World Aquatics will be scratching their heads as to what incentives they can give for excellence in the Olympics!

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