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Beijing 2022 Olympics: the puzzle of funding Olympic athletes

“We don’t live off the short-track. It’s a fact and we got used to it. You have to anticipate and have a follow-up throughout your career, otherwise it’s impossible. » Speed ​​skater Tifany Huot-Marchand made this bitter observation in October 2021 in an interview on the International Olympic Committee (IOC) website.

A year earlier, the 27-year-old European champion and vice-world champion in the short-track relay (short-track speed skating) had launched an online crowdfunding campaign with the aim of raise 3,000 euros to subsidize his preparation and optimize his chances of qualifying for the Winter Olympics in Beijing (February 4 to 20), four years after his participation in the Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea. She managed to raise 4,230 euros.

A few months later, it was Agathe Bessard’s turn to rely on Internet users for the“helping to become the first Frenchwoman in history” to line up in skeleton – a downhill discipline that sends its practitioners on a sled, head first on a bobsleigh track – during the high mass of snow and ice sports. With envelopes gradually set at 4,000 euros, 8,000 euros, then 12,000 euros, the 23-year-old sportswoman hoped to be able to complete the budget for her season, the cost of which is around 85,000 euros. Failing to have succeeded in fulfilling one of the three selection criteria set by the French Federation of Ice Sports (FFSG), she will ultimately not be on the trip to Beijing.

The budgets of the federations affected by the health crisis

These initiatives are welcomed by the president of the FFSG, Nathalie Péchalat, who encourages the athletes under her supervision to seek private funding. The former ice dancer speaks with knowledge: long couple ” number two “ discipline in France, her partner, Fabian Bourzat, and she had to seek funds to supplement federal aid.

“To be able to go abroad, for example, or work with renowned choreographers, I went looking for private partners, she explains. I have always considered that the Federation was one of our partners to support us, but it was in no way our bank, nor the body that should take care of everything. That’s what I’m trying to replicate today. »

With the approach of an Olympic deadline – summer and winter alike –, the problem of funding athletes resurfaces. And if this is far from new, the Covid-19 pandemic poses it all the more acutely. The health crisis has not been without consequences on the treasuries of the federations. “We have about less 30% licensees. There are also sponsors who jumped ship because events could not take place or there was less visibility, details the president of the FFSG. Budgets have been greatly impacted. »

Read also The fall in the number of licensees weakens French sport

“Less media coverage, therefore less enthusiasm”

But it was above all the postponement of the Tokyo Olympics that brought the blow. With a summer Olympics reduced to three years and Paris 2024 already in sight, the visibility of Beijing 2022 has been reduced to a trickle. “In general when the Summer Games end, the partners have a year to relaunch on the Winter Games, something that there was not this time, sums up freestyle skier Perrine Laffont, reigning Olympic champion in mogul skiing and three-time world champion. There is less media coverage, so less enthusiasm at the level of federations, sponsors. »

In the case of winter sports, however, the financial challenges are greater, while there are only a limited number of places where athletes can find mogul courses, ski jumps, slide on a bobsleigh track… You also have to manage the equipment: sometimes expensive to acquire, maintain or transport. As long as the discipline practiced is confidential, the situation turns into a puzzle: how to “sell” yourself when you represent a sport that is almost invisible to the general public?

Margot Boch and Carla Sénéchal experienced this when they launched their bobsleigh team at the end of 2018, when the average cost of a season was around 80,000 euros. “It was complicated, tell the two Savoyards. Nobody knows the bobsleigh, even among the locals when we have a track in La Plagne. » Thanks to their performances, the young women were able to count on greater support from the FFSG, but due to the health crisis, they began their Olympic season with the need to find their own funding again.

Read also Article reserved for our subscribers Bobsleigh: the Olympic dream of bobsledders Margot Boch and Carla Sénéchal

“Wearing the colors of France high is at our expense”

The horizon of Paris 2024 does not only have an impact on sponsors and other private partners. The National Sports Agency (ANS) has decided to target its allocations for medal winners, emphasizing summer sports. “There is a political will that we must follow”, admits Nathalie Péchalat. “We are really on the short term and obtaining results. Except that you don’t go like that from a leisure practice to Olympic, European or world medals “, she argues, however.

Author of two good seasons, during which he won gold at the Winter X Games Europe – a flagship extreme sports competition – in 2020, then silver at the Winter X Games in 2021 in big air, skier Antoine Adelisse will be aiming for the top step of the podium in Beijing. Three years ago, however, his financial difficulties could have marked the end of his career: “ I was in debt. I owed money because I had bet everything on skiing,” he explains.

Since I started freestyle skiing, the majority of my seasons have been at my expense, between 25,000 and 35,000 euros per year depending on the number of competitions carried out », explains the young man. Today, he can count on federal support which, by his own admission, “lighten up a lot [s]expenses ».

Above all, in February 2021, he became the first representative of his discipline to sign a high-level defense sportsman (SHND) gendarmerie contract, which translates into a salary, social security coverage and possibilities of retraining at the outcome of his career, while leaving him the field free for the intensive practice of his sport.

But he remains worried about future generations. “It’s very hard to get young people out of clubs to bring them to the France team. The Federation [de ski] pays for the coach’s travel and salary, but everything else, to get around, to participate in the World Cups and to wear the colors of France, is at our expense. » And the young man of 25 years to warn: “The sport must not become financially elitist. »

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