Why Do Track and Field Athletes Earn Lesser Than Others During Olympics?

Published 08/16/2021, 11:32 AM EDT
Tokyo 2020 Olympics – Athletics – Men’s 200m – Final – Olympic Stadium, Tokyo, Japan – August 4, 2021. Noah Lyles of the United States in action REUTERS/Aleksandra Szmigiel


At the Tokyo Olympics 2020, many high-paid stars competed together. From top tennis players Novak Djokovic, Naomi Osaka to NBA star Kevin Durant took the spotlight at the mega-event.

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However, looking at the top paid Olympic athletes, it’s rare to come across names of track and field athletes. The Olympic legends Usain Bolt and Michael Johnson and some others are the very few names who are known around the world.

While the track and field athletes might be the fastest in running, in the race for money, they are behind the mainstream sports. Alas, there is a vast gap in the earnings of track and field athletes compared with other sports. Why? Here are some of the key reasons.

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Less viewership of the track and field events at Tokyo Olympics 2020

Athletes earn majorly from advertisements and prize money. However, the endorsement deals and payouts vary from sport to sport. NBA stars are the highest-paid because of the high number of viewership.

Only when there is a good amount of viewership, sponsors show interest in the sport. Sadly, the viewership in track and field is very low, leading to fewer sponsorships for athletes and championships.

The whole idea is around demand and supply. The more people demand, the more athletes earn. According to reports, 20% of top 10 American track and field athletes earn over $50K annually.

NBA players make around $8 million per year on average, while the average salary in prize money for tennis players is around $113,478 per year.

Less awareness about the track and field sport

It would be easier for non-football or NBA fans to recognize Ronaldo or LeBron James than Carl Lewis. Even if someone is not watching the sport, they are aware of football and NBA stars.

The major reason for this diversity in awareness is advertisements. An enormous sum of money is spent on famous sports, while the same is not the case for track and field or athletics.

Diamond League is one of the top athletic championships organized by the World Athletics. Even World Athletics Championships have been taking place since 1983. However, because of less interest of viewers, the money invested is hampered.

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Tokyo 2020 Olympics – Athletics – Men’s 200m – Final – Olympic Stadium, Tokyo, Japan – August 4, 2021. Noah Lyles of the United States, Andre De Grasse of Canada and Kenneth Bednarek of the United States in action REUTERS/Dylan Martinez

Albeit, events take place, but again, if people won’t watch the matches, there will be a low number on the sale of tickets. This eventually leads to less prize money for the athletes.

IOC over the years has been trying to make every sport more viewer-friendly. Although it won’t be fair to call track and field a ‘super technical sport.’ The sport is easily understandable compared to other technical sports like shooting.

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While the likes of Allyson Felix are recognized, many barely survive financially. People need to give the same love and support to every track and field athlete they have given to legend Usain Bolt. Otherwise, athletes have to take up another job to sustain their athletic careers.

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Shreya Verma

206 articles

Shreya Verma is an NBA and Tennis Author at EssentiallySports. A graduate of Political Science, Shreya comes from a strong sports background. A professional 10m air pistol shooter, Shreya is also a tennis enthusiast.

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