The 2016 Rio Summer Olympics are Over, So Why Are Some Athletes Filing for Bankruptcy?

The 2016 Rio Summer Olympics are now, just recently, over. Many predicted the summer games would be surrounded by controversy, scandal, crime, and a myriad of other problems. Though we don’t have all the facts from the recently concluded games, it’s probably safe to say things went better than most of the critics and media expected. Certainly, there were hiccups and small, unforeseen issues that came up; however, most of the events went off without a hitch. And that’s good news for fans of the games, and for the country of Brazil too.

There were plenty of great storylines from the Olympic games, too – whether it was the first-ever appearance of the refugee team comprised of people who fled their war-torn countries, or a “rags to riches” story about an athlete that grew up in poverty in the American south.

Once the Olympics are over, though, most of us just forget about most of the athletes and many of the sports. How many people regularly follow competitive diving? What about professional table tennis? Except for the participants in main-stream sports like soccer and basketball, these athletes only get their “fifteen minutes of fame” for two weeks every four years.

So what happens to these champions after the games are over and they go home? As a law firm that specializes in bankruptcy in southeastern Wisconsin, we’d like to take a brief look at the financial implications being “the greatest in the world” bring with it.

For hyper-focused athletes, you probably wouldn’t be surprised to find out training is their job – they eat, sleep, and breathe their sport. In the case of basketball stars and soccer players, that is usually ok from a financial standpoint. They can join a professional league and be paid to play their sport and to train. But what if your sport is judo or canoeing? Athletes must spend their time training, sometimes at great expense, but with little chance to cash in on their status as “greatest in the world.”

It’s true that winning a gold medal brings along with it prize money. Some countries reward their athletes quite handsomely for winning the top prize in their respective sports. Taiwan, for example, pays almost one million dollars for a gold medal at the Olympics. Most countries, however, pay much less. The U.S. Olympic Committee, for example, pays $25,000 in prize money for an Olympic gold.* Certainly, this isn’t chump change. However, if this is really your only chance to make money on your sport, you can see how a mere $25,000 every four years won’t go very far. Because this is considered “prize” money, Uncle Sam takes his fair share too, leaving a U.S. Olympic gold medal-winning athlete with more like $15,000 for his or her efforts.

So…it’s not hard to see that, for some athletes, their passion and dedication to their respective sports can leave them in a tough financial position. It’s not surprising then that many athletes in some of the lesser-known sports find themselves filing for bankruptcy. While we all like the “feel good” stories that air during the Olympics, the coverage doesn’t always emphasize just how tough on family life or financial life being an elite athlete can be.

It’s good for us all to remember even the “greatest athletes in the world” also face financial hardships. When dealing with financial issues, it’s important to understand people in many different walks of life face these issues, for many different reasons. The reasons for bankruptcy are as diverse as the people filing.

If you’re facing financial hardship and need advice about the best way to protect yourself, your family, and your future, contact the Milwaukee Bankruptcy attorneys at Burr Law Office LLC. We are always here to help and want to help put you in the best position possible to succeed in your finances.