Olympic athletes have natural talent, dedication, and drive. They devote their lives to their sport in hopes of being the best in the world. No matter how talented or driven an athlete, however, they must train hours a day to perfect their skills and maintain their phenomenal level of physical shape. An aspiring Olympic athlete spends an average of eight hours a day, seven days a week training their body and mind—more time than a full-time job, which raises the question: how do Olympians earn money to pay for coaches, housing, food, and other living expenses?
Sponsorship is a form of survival for most athletes, especially those who compete in non-paying events such as the Olympic Games. Sponsorship can cover the cost of living and training for amateur athletes in several different forms including private, corporate, and team ownership.
Until the 1970s, Olympic athletes could not accept endorsements or prizes, and professionals were not allowed to compete in the Games. Athletes who practiced professionally were considered to have an unfair advantage over those who played sports as a hobby. Amateur athletes relied on private sponsorship, such as family members and wealthy fans, to fund their training and pay living expenses.
The International Olympic Committee eliminated the necessity of amateurism in 1971, allowing athletes to receive compensation for time away from work during training and competition. In addition, athletes were permitted to receive sponsorship from national organizations, sports organizations, and private businesses for the first time. In 1986, professional athletes were given permission by the International Federation to compete in each sport of the Olympic Games. For instance, in the 1992 Olympic Games, the United States was allowed to field a basketball team comprised of well-paid NBA stars, called "The Dream Team."
Although the IOC allowed for athlete compensation in 1971, all U.S. athletes still had to be of amateur status to compete on the United States Olympic team until 1978. Athletes from the United States found it difficult to compete at the Olympic Games against athletes from eastern nations who were sponsored by their governments and able to train full-time. In 1978, the United States adopted the Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act, allowing athletes on the U.S. Olympic team to receive financial awards, sponsorship, and payments for the first time. A revision of the Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act in 1998 expanded athletic eligibility and representation further to include the Paralympics Games and increased athlete representation.
Since the elimination of amateurism in the Olympic Games, athletes are often funded to train through corporate sponsors and endorsement deals. With both types of sponsorship, athletes receive money, and in return the company receives publicity. Tiger Woods has become the face of Nike, Titleist, and Gatorade, among many others. It is considered more prestigious for an athlete to receive an endorsement deal than a sponsor since a company may sponsor many athletes, but will only choose one or two to represent their company.
A corporation sometimes spends millions of dollars a year to sponsor a team. This is probably the most expensive type of sponsorship. For instance, companies will often sponsor an entire cycling team instead of an individual cyclist. Teams compete wearing the company logo in exchange for money, closely resembling an employer-employee relationship.