The Business of Olympic Lifting

In the last 20 years, significant changes have occurred within the sport of Olympic Weightlifting in Australia. Without doubt, these changes have also occurred in most democratic nations of the world. As a life-long participant, it leaves me wondering what the future holds for the sport and what opportunities exist to control the business of Olympic lifting.

Here are some of the more significant changes that have happened in last 20 years:

  • 20 years ago, places to engage in Olympic lifting were extremely few. Today, you can find Olympic Weightlifting in almost every regional town as well as multiple locations in all cities of Australia.
  • In last 20 years, Olympic lifting has steadily improved its reputation as a strength and conditioning activity for sport in general.
  • In last 20 years, participation in Olympic lifting has grown four-fold, but there could be many more who practise the Olympic lifts and do not register as competitors.
  • Whereas almost all clubs were non-profit 20 years ago, they are now overwhelmingly commercial operations. This has had a profound impact.
  • Today people spend considerably greater sums of money to participate. This reflects the change in demographics and facilities. An average annual expenditure of $3000 is conceivable if you add gym fees, coaching fees, affiliation fees, clothing and footwear, program purchases, equipment, courses, medical and physiotherapy services, nutritional supplements, competition fees and travel costs.
  • Weightlifting coaches used to dream of receiving money for their services, but now the vast majority of coaches are paid. This also reflects the commercialisation of the sport.
  • 20 years ago it was rare for participants in Level 1 coaching courses to have knowledge of sport science. Today, university qualifications in sports science among entrants into Weightlifting coaching are increasingly common.
  • 20 years ago, the proportion of juniors (under 20) greatly exceeded that of seniors (over 20). A key reason for this was that Olympic Weightlifting was embedded in youth clubs. Now that the commercial gym has replaced the youth clubs as the main outlet, the proportion of youth participants has dramatically dropped.
  • Female athletes in Olympic lifting existed 20 years ago, but were vastly outnumbered by males. Now it is close to 50/50, but females predominate.
  • 20 years ago, digital video technology was in its infancy but now has radically altered the level of understanding of Olympic lifting.
  • 20 years ago, the phenomena of social media and YouTube had not begun but now the media are key strategies for promoting and educating about Olympic lifting. The short duration of Olympic lifts make the sport perfect for social media.
  • In the last 20 years, the culture of Weightlifting has been subtlety impacted by the proliferation of websites and social media that market the products and services of gyms, coaches, businesses and organisations. In Olympic Weightlifting, we really need to think about this.
  • Weightlifting’s presence in the Olympic Games hangs by a thread.

It seems to me that the business of Olympic Weightlifting is now far greater in commercial value than it has ever been. However, the sport itself may not be the main beneficiary. It is hard to get a true estimate of the total expenditure of all participants in Australia, registered or unregistered, but it may well be $50 million or more. Olympic Weightlifting is still largely an amateur sport, but increasingly its big business. You would think under these circumstances that the sport would begin to really fly but sadly not yet it seems. To use the modern parlance, I suggest its time for us all to have a ‘conversation’!

Post Update

Since writing this article, the question “What would be the definition/criteria for weightlifting really flying?”. A great question which is deserving of discussion by the Weightlifting community more broadly.

Here is a first attempt at developing some criteria. Suggestions and criticisms are welcome.

  • A national recruitment strategy is developed and all states and territories are involved in its funding, development and delivery.
  • The coach education program is redesigned to reflect the coaching competencies needed at all levels of the sport.
  • Australian Weightlifting recognises that the destiny of the sport is now largely dependent on commercial gyms and club development program is inaugurated.
  • The domestic competition calendar includes an increased variety of competitions that appeal to non-elite.
  • Australian Weightlifting continues with progress made with virtual competitions run in competitions hubs in a greater number of locations.
  • Australian Weightlifting involves state/territory associations and private providers to run skill clinics across the nation but under strict guidelines.
  • A coaches association is formed with a mission to provides policy guidance for coach education, recognition and regulation.
  • The profile of officials and officiating in general receives substantial promotion and recognition.

Other articles: Limitations of Australian Weightlifting and The Weightlifting Bandwagon.

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