2016 Olympic Games medal table vs. population and GDP

Now that the 2016 Olympic Games of Rio de Janeiro have finished, I wanted to update and share here in the blog a couple of tables I produced a few days ago comparing the medal count per country and the ratios of such medal count in relation to the population and the size of the economy of each country.

To start with, find here the official medal count, which is ordered taking into account which national olympic committee has obtained the most gold medals, then most silver medals and finally most bronze medals (and not by the total tally).

Rio 2016 - medal table 2016.08.21

In the table I have only included the top 20 countries, but you can find here the complete list. There are 86 nations that have collected medals in the Games. This means that over a hundred nations have not collected a single medal.

Without doubt the most dominant nation in the Olympics has been the United States with 121 medals won, 46 of them of gold. That is over 50 more medals than China or the United Kingdom.

However, the United States has a population of about 5 times that of the United Kingdom, therefore the pool of talent where to search for olympians is much larger. This allows me to introduce the first ratio: Population / medal. I collected the figures of population from the Wikipedia (here). Find a table below with the results:

Rio 2016 - ratio population medal table 2016.08.21 selection

The table shows a selection of 44 countries not the complete list of 86. Find such complete list at the bottom of the post and find your country. These 44 countries help me to make the following remarks:

  • Small nations such as Grenada and Bahamas, despite of having collected only 1-2 medals lead the table.
  • In the top 20 we find nations such as New Zealand, Denmark, Australia, Netherlands and Sweden that tend to be in the lead pack of any positive ranking. They seem to be good as well in producing olympian talent.
  • The 4 bigger European Union nations find themselves in the upper third of the list, with between 1 and 2 million inhabitants per medal, with the UK leading the pack followed by France, Germany and Italy.
  • United States for all its dominance in the medal table is only the 43rd nation taking into account the size of its population. That is at the middle of the table. One would say that the average American doesn’t play any better at sports but the sheer size of the country allows it to find plenty of good olympians in different sports.
  • Funny enough, just above the USA we find Russia in this ranking. And just below, Spain. All 3 have about 1 medal for every 2.7 million inhabitants.
  • At the bottom of the table we find large nations such as India, Nigeria, Philippines or Indonesia that with over 100 million inhabitants have also collected only between 1-3 medals each.
  • Plenty of nations have not managed to collect a single medal, some of them large nations: Pakistan (~194 million inhabitants), Bangladesh (~160 m). Most African countries have not won a medal as many in the Middle East (e.g. Saudi Arabia). Some emerging nations from Latin America neither: Chile, Peru, Uruguay

As there are few developed countries at the bottom of the list I thought of producing a similar ranking but with the ratio “gross domestic product (GDP)” / medal. The guiding thought is that the larger the size of the economy of a given country the more resources it will have to recruit sportive talent, to train it, to send it to international competitions, to build sport infrastructures, etc. (1) (2) I collected the figures of GDP from the Wikipedia (here; the source for most of the figures is the International Monetary Fund whereas for about 5 of them is the World Bank). Find a table below with the results:

Rio 2016 - ratio nominal GDP medal table 2016.08.21 selection

The table shows a similar selection of ~45 countries not the complete list of 86. Find such complete list at the bottom of the post and find your country. These countries help me to make the following remarks:

  • Among the top 30 nations all are small economies. The first G20 economy we find is Russia in the 34th position. These small economies leading the table translate between 1 bn$ and 20 bn$ of GDP per medal.
  • We find Grenada, Jamaica and Bahamas in top 10 in both rankings.
  • African nations that do well in athletics show up here: Kenya (12th) and Ethiopia (24th).
  • Where are New Zealand, Denmark, Australia, Netherlands and Sweden in this ranking? They are between the 25th (New Zealand) and the 48th (Sweden) positions, converting between 9 bn$ and 46 bn$ of GDP into a medal.
  • Where are the 4 bigger European Union nations in this ranking? They are between the 44th (United Kingdom) and the 60th (Germany) positions, converting between 41 bn$ and 82 bn$ of GDP into a medal. That is at the second half of the ranking.
  • Where is the USA? At the bottom of the pack, in the 73rd position just followed by China. Both translating between 152 – 162 bn$ of GDP into a medal. That is an economy about the size of New Zealand (4.7 million inhabitants).
  • We find the richest economies of the Middle East (Qatar and United Arab Emirates) at the bottom of the table, not being able to translate petrodollars into medals, despite of signing some good athletes.
  • At the bottom of the table we find some of the same large nations: India, Nigeria, Indonesia… and Austria.
  • Even if plenty of nations have not collected a single medal, most of the larger economies have. The largest economy in failing to win a single medal at Rio was Saudi Arabia (20th by nominal GDP), followed by Hong Kong (33rd) , Pakistan (39th) and Chile (43rd).

Another discussion would be whether in itself it is indeed important or not to collect medals at the Olympic Games but that discussion is out of the scope of this post.

(1) I used GDP and not GDP per capita with the idea the GDP per capita would be more linked to the overall sports habits and fitness level of the nation, but the number of athletes that can be sent to the olympics is limited, thus GDP would show by itself whether the size of the economy of a given country would work efficiently in finding that talent and bringing it to the level required to win medals at the olympics.

(2) I used nominal GDP instead of “purchasing power parity” figures with the idea that sport talent of olympic worth needs to be trained and tested in several international events along the year, thus comparing the more local PPP figures wouldn’t do.

Complete table with medal tally ordered by the ration “Population / medal”:

Rio 2016 - ratio population medal table 2016.08.21 TOTAL

Complete table with medal tally ordered by the ration “GDP / medal”:

Rio 2016 - ratio nominal GDP medal table 2016.08.21 TOTAL

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2 Comments

Filed under Sports

2 responses to “2016 Olympic Games medal table vs. population and GDP

  1. pepe

    It may also be considered that even though the US has 5 times the population of the UK, it still can only send 1 team or up to 3 athletes.

    There is no doubt that, had they been allowed to send 3 basketball teams, they would have gotten all 3 medals, for example, and instead they are only allowed to get 1.

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