IT has been a sad week waking up each morning and being unable to switch on the television and instantly become heavily invested in a sport I know nothing about.

For an Olympic Games that took forever to arrive, it seems barely believable that Tokyo 2020 has now been over for a week already. 

As the final Team GB athletes returned home, the debrief into the team’s performance in Japan began. Of course, with 65 medals won and fourth-place in the medal table secured, the initial reaction is that the Games was hugely successful. But, as we all know, Olympic success, and particularly the sustained success that Team GB have enjoyed this century, does not come cheaply.

The cost of funding athletes in the Tokyo Olympic cycle was around £225 million. That eye-watering amount is, as every athlete knows all too well, not spread evenly across every sport.

The likes of sailing, rowing, cycling and athletics were the best-funded sports, all receiving well over £20m each while some of the “minnow” sports such as skateboarding and weightlifting were forced to survive on less than a £250,000.

What is far more interesting than the initial amounts, though, is the return on investment. Cycling won the most medals in Tokyo with 12, meaning each medal cost just over £2m.

Using this calculation, athletics’ medals cost £3.8m each while rowing medals, of which only two were won, cost £12.3m each. 

The most expensive medal was the women’s hockey bronze, coming in at £12.9m while the cheapest were from skateboarding and weightlifting, at around the £200,000 mark.

These figures are, admittedly, reductive but they do raise an important question: how much is Olympic success worth?

It is a question to which there is no definitive answer but one which surely must be taken into account when dishing out millions upon millions to each sporting organisation. 

And it should be noted that many of the sports Team GB traditionally do well in are those in which significant funds are required. After all, how many developing countries are pumping money into their equestrian team? 

If Olympic sport is touted as inspiring the next generation, how many children will now become rowers or sailors or modern pentathletes having watched Tokyo 2020, or any of the previous recent Olympic Games? 

On the other hand, Laura Muir’s silver, which on these calculations cost £3.8m, surely has far more value than some of our other successes. After all, every kid can now nip out of their house and run 1500m. They cannot pop out of their house and into a sailing boat nearly as easily.

Having said all of that, I am all for supporting Olympic sport. Success brings with it pride, inspiration and goodwill in a way little else can.

But let’s not pretend this Olympic success is anything other than extortionate, perhaps unjustifiably so.


SIMONE BILES’ withdrawal, and then medal-winning return, in Tokyo was, understandably, the gymnastics story of the Games.

There was, however, another subplot in the Ariake Gymnastics Centre that deserves a mention.

The German women’s gymnastics team wore unitards – a whole body suit – instead of the traditional leotard, a first for the Olympic Games.

This should not have been a surprise; it was the same outfit a few of the squad had worn at the European Championships.

They were protesting against the “sexualisation” of their sport and what made their stand all the more timely was that it came on the back of the revelation that the Norwegian women’s beach handball team had been fined for wearing shorts instead of the mandated bikinis at the recent European Championships.

This is just the latest instalment in a decades-long conversation about what women should wear while playing sport, and it says much about how female athletes are viewed, with them subjected to different rules never seen in male sport.

This has long been the case; ahead of the introduction of women’s boxing at London 2012, the idea of having female fighters wear skirts rather than shorts was touted, it was said, in an attempt to help viewers “differentiate them from male fighters”.

That we are still having this conversation, which should have been consigned to the 19th century, in 2021, is utterly depressing but there is a significant change happening.

In the past, these outdated and often sexist suggestions about female athletes’ kit received only sporadic dissent.  However, no longer. Female athletes are developing a confidence to speak out about these expectations and requirements in a way never seen before.

It goes without saying that if a female gymnast wants to wear a leotard or a female beach handball player wants to wear a bikini, they should do so with no hesitation.

But no longer should an unwillingness to conform to the “traditional” uniform of some sports be met with any kind of disapproval.

Progress is happening, albeit slowly.

So perhaps, one day, we will reach a point whereby female athletes can wear whatever they choose on their field of play and it will not be met with a running commentary, just like the privilege male athletes have enjoyed for as long as anyone can remember.