Is there a correlation between a nation's economic performance and its success at international sports competitions? Has India's economic resurgence contributed to its achieving remarkable second place status on the medals table at the Commonwealth Games 2010 that just concluded in New Delhi?
Economics professor Daniel Johnson and his student Ms. Ayfer Ali have developed a model to predict a country's Olympic performance using per-capita income (the economic output per person), the nation's population, its political structure, its climate and the host nation advantage. The Johnson-Ali model was described in a paper, “A Tale of Two Seasons: Participation and Medal Counts at the Summer and Winter Olympics,” that was written in 1999 with Ayfer Ali, while Johnson was on sabbatical at Harvard University and Ali was a student. It was published in Social Science Quarterly in December 2004."It's just pure economics," Johnson insists. "I know nothing about the athletes. And even if I did, I didn't include it."
"The home-field advantage is not trivial. That's why we structure playoffs the way we do," says Johnson.
Over the past five Olympics since 2000, Johnson-Ali model
has demonstrated 94% accuracy
between predicted and actual national medal counts. For gold medal wins, the correlation is 87%. For the 2008 Beijing Games, Johnson predicted the U.S. team would win 103 medals in total, 33 of them gold. The Americans ended up winning 110 medals, 36 being gold. With its host nation advantage, China did better than Johnson's forecast. Johnson predicted Chinese athletes would win 89 medals; they took 100. He expected China to earn 44 gold medals by the time of the closing ceremonies at the Bird's Nest in Beijing. The Chinese collected a list-leading 51 golds, besting the model's expectations.
The Johnson-Ali model has not done well for nations other than the top 10. For example, Pakistan, which Johnson suggested would win seven medals, including three golds, won no medals at all at Athens Olympics. In fact, Pakistan has won three golds,three silvers and four bronze medals, a total of 10 medals in the entire history of its participation in Olympics
movement since 1948. Eight out of the ten medals were won by Pakistan's field hockey team. The last Olympic medal Pakistan won was a bronze in 1992. India has won nine golds,four silvers and seven bronze medals, a total of 20 medals in its entire Olympics history which began in 1927 while Sri Lanka has won two medals in its history at the Olympics, one silver and one bronze. At Beijing in 2008, India won three medals, including one gold and two bronzes, and Afghanistan won its first-ever Olympic medal, a bronze. Bangladesh is the most populous country in the world never to have won an Olympic medal. Nepal won a bronze medal in Taekwondo at Seoul in 1988, but it was won in an exhibition match not counted among official medals.
Eighty of 205 Olympic committees
, representing about 40 percent of the world's nations, have never won an Olympic medal.
Now let's see if Johnson-Ali model has any relevance to the results of Delhi CWG 2010. Representing the host nation, Indian athletes have performed very well, winning second spot on the medals table with 101 medals, including 38 golds, beating England to win the second place with just one more gold medal than England's 37 golds.
As expected, Australians top the medals table with 177 medals, including 74 golds, although down significantly from 221 medals they won in 2006, according to the BBC
Indians double their medal count to 101 this year from 50 medals in 2006.
England also make gains, winning 142 medals this year, up from 110 in 2006.
Pakistan ranks 17th, on a list of 37 medal winning nations. Pakistan's medal count is flat at 5 from 2006, including 2 golds.
In terms of population per medal, Nauru (2 medals) tops the list with one medal per 5000 people.
India and Pakistan are both near the bottom with one medal per 11 million and 33 million citizens respectively.
Bangladesh is at the very bottom with its one bronze medal for its entire population of 162 million people.
In terms of GDP, Nauru tops with 1 medal per $119 million.
India (101 medals) and Pakistan (5 medals) are near the bottom with $12 billion and $33 billion respectively.
Bangladesh is last with just one bronze for its entire GDP of $94 billion.
Indians deserve to be congratulated for leveraging their rapid economic growth in recent years to achieve remarkable success at the 2010 Commonwealth Games in New Delhi. However, in terms of India's GDP and the size of its population, the Indians still have a long way to go to match the performance of China and OECD member nations at major international sports competitions like the Olympics.
Many of India's best athletes at CWG 2010 are women, including badminton star Saina Nehwal, who picked up the badminton singles gold, putting India in second place ahead of England on the medals table. Many of India's medal-winning women are from the northern state of Haryana, which has some of the worst rates of female foeticide
in the country. Let us hope that these girls drive positive social change in this benighted region where the politicians have failed.
With rising enthusiasm for competitive sports and its world-class training facilities built for Delhi Commonwealth Games, I believe India has taken a giant step forward to become a sports powerhouse ready to compete and win in major international sporting events in future.
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