What does the flow of Diamond League prize funds tell us?

16 Sep 2015

Sandra Perkovic topped our Diamond League prize money rankings and US athletes raked in the most cash from track and field’s premier competition. But what else can be gleaned from this data? Here are some initial thoughts…

Collectively US athletes have accumulated almost $2m in prize money, but that was spread out across 154 different athletes across the series. Of the top 10 earning nations, it’s the Czech Republic that was the most efficient (thanks to Diamond League winners Spotakova and Hejnova) averaging $20,250 per athlete (13 took part in total).

Mean amount of prize money per athlete by nation, US$

Great Britain, third in the overall money tally, was the least efficient in this respect: averaging $7,745 per athlete—with 49 competing in all meets. Diamond League meeting directors are obliged to invite national athletes in each event (which I imagine they would want to do anyway) and many occupy the lower prize money positions. Since Britain hosts two meets, this would have brought down its average—although the US, which also hosts two meets, doesn’t seem to be too affected by this.

Great Britain also loses when you look at this average as a percentage of GDP per capita, PPP, which is a nation’s GDP divided by its population, adjusted for the relative cost of living and the inflation rates. Unsurprisingly, the big winners are Ethiopia and Kenya.

GDP PPP isn’t an average income (it’s generally a bit higher) and has its limitations, but it’s the best comparison available for this range of countries. To take this further, the Diamond League overall prize money for a series event winner is $40,000. That works out at 2665% GDP PPP in Ethiopia. An equivalent would be winner prize money of more than $1,000,000 for a British athlete, or just over $1,400,000 for a US athlete.

For all the events included in the Diamond League, the IAAF runs a fair process: all events have the same amounts of prize money. It’s a system that has enabled a female thrower to top the rankings—and for women to make up the top five and 70% of the top ten. Field athletes also occupy seven out of the top 10. This is not bad when you consider the upper echelons of sport’s money makers: in Forbes’ 2015 highest-paid athletes only two out of the list of 100 were women—Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams. It would seem it’s a job well done, but the only question that remains is whether women (and field) athletes make the most of Diamond League opportunity because they are limited elsewhere?

This brings us on to the hammer. It’s inexplicably not a Diamond League event. There’s an IAAF hammer challenge, but that’s not the same: less profile and less prize money. Looking at how well their thrower counterparts do from the Diamond League, it’s a bit of a kick in the teeth.

Turning to the map of the nationalities which benefited the most from the prize money, it’s clear that a lot goes to Europe, North America and then east Africa. Not dissimilar from the recent World Championship medal table. But it’s European countries that host 10 out of the 14 meets, which brings preferential selection, shorter jaunts and recycled audiences. If athletics wants to continue saying it’s a global sport, it needs to take action and bring its premier series to new places and audiences.

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