An IB perspective on the Olympics

I suspect many of you will have been quite distracted by the Olympics over the past couple of weeks. I certainly have. Watching competitors from so many nations in head-to-head competition might be seen as a nice metaphor for what we are studying this semester. So here are interesting titbits of information and data from around the web to think about:

– This paper (see page 2) makes the argument that in recent years we have seen more countries winning gold medals (from 31 in 1988 to 57 in 2004), and less dominance from the top nations (the top 5 won 63% of the toal golds in 1998 and only 41% in 2004). The final outcome for 2008 Games was 55 countries with gold, and the top 5 winning 46%. This greater spread of winners is seen as a further example of increased globalisation (and maybe, dare I say it, a flatter world).

– This set of tables by an Aussie economist, show medals won based on GDP of the country (i.e. how many medals relative to a country’s economic output), population per medal, and GDP per capita. All of a sudden the efforts of North Korea, Zimbabwe, Ethopia and Jamaica (or rather their athletes) start to stand out. This is a neat variation on the distinction between a nation’s GDP and it’s GDP per capita. Here’s an all-time version by population. This fun map shows of the relative “size” of medal hauls by country in each Olympiad (slide the bar from year to year to see the emergence and decline of different countries and regions).

And here’s a story about the medals themselves and the way in which they reflect Australia’s (or at least BHP Billiton’s) engagement with China.

Other IB issues could be showcased by the on-field Olympic experience:

– the tendency of countries to have areas of specialisation

– the global reach of sporting wear giants (as they battle for uniform and endorsement contracts in key markets)

– the mobility of labour (as athletes move countries in response to opportunities).

I am sure you can think of many more…


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