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US Olympics Success Proves that the Government Shouldn’t Pay for Sports

By: Vanesa Vallejo - Aug 24, 2016, 12:00 pm
(KMAKM)
(KMAKM)

Colombian boxer Yuberjen Martinez used to sell coconut nougat on the street, and made handicrafts to help his parents. Now he has a silver medal from the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Days before his final fight, he said on camera he wanted to win the gold medal so he could buy a house. Though the young athlete did not achieve his goal, Colombia’s Minister of Housing promised him one anyway.

We all get excited for the victory of others, for the stories of young and humble people who achieve their dreams. We feel something similar upon seeing the flag of our country raised in an international competition.

It’s no surprise, then, that the call for state-funded sports programs grows much louder around this time.

A common belief holds that without public funding, most countries wouldn’t be able to train their athletes to the elite conditions required to compete.

Take, for example, the video that went viral on a Colombian website La Silla Vacía:

It showed that government funding is the central reason for the success of athletes in world competitions like the Olympics.

“Public investment is measured in gold,” the video stated. But that statement is false.

The historic winner of the Olympic Games is the United States, with 2,520 medals. Yet funding for US athletes does not come from the government. The US Olympic Committee does not receive any government subsidy.

Welfare state defenders assert that entrepreneurs are evil, and that they will not help others unless they are forced to do so. They say charity does not exist, and that if the government does not fund professional sports, they would collapse. The United States seems to prove the opposite.

Unlike many countries, the US does not have a Department of Sports. In fact, the Olympic Committee’s website makes sure to explicitly clarify they do not receive money from the government.

Its operations rely on business investment, philanthropy and the efforts of hundreds of volunteers.

People tend to believe that art will also end if it is not financed with taxes, and that professional sports will end if they are not subsidized. Nonetheless, the analysis of why the United States, supported by the private sector, is the historical leader in the Olympic Games is the same as in any market.

The idea behind it is simple: It is impossible for a few bureaucrats to obtain all the information and be more efficient than the market.

And it works much better when there is no centralized planning. Just look at China.

The Chinese government invests millions in athletes’ preparation and financing. It is responsible for “talent hunting” in schools. Only the most talented children enter into expensive and exclusive programs.

Even with “headhunter” schools, financing and the enormous bureaucratic apparatus that China has developed around sports, they have not been able to beat the United States.

In China, the government decides who has talent, how athletes should trained and how resources are allocated.

In the US, individuals make their own way into sports. Parents who see the talent and desire of their children help them in their pursuit for athletic success. American entrepreneurs and donors get to decide where and how to invest.

The United States demonstrates that what we actually need is the elimination of government intervention.

If Yuberjen lived in the United States, where sports are privately financed, he would not be asking for a house. He would have obtained it a long time ago by his own means, without having to wait for the government’s charity.

Vanesa Vallejo Vanesa Vallejo

Vanesa Vallejo is a Colombian economist, columnist, and classical liberal activist. She is a member of Colombia's Libertarian Movement. Follow her: @VanesaVallejo3.