When the draw takes place to choose the groups for a sporting tournament, there are some countries that everyone hopes to avoid meeting. This is because some countries are consistently successful in certain sports. If you have ever wondered why this is the case, here is a brief look at what turns a country into an elite sporting nation.
The popularity of sport in the country
One of the major factors of any country’s sporting success will often be the sporting ability of the previous generation. If a team has a lot of success in their sport, they will inspire the next generation to start playing.
For example, whenever Andy Murray does well at his home tournament in Wimbledon, the tennis courts around Britain are filled with young children picking up a racket for the first time. If one of those young people continues to practice and train in the sport, then they could one day end up having the same success as Andy Murray.
This is one of the main reasons why some countries seem to have continued success in some areas – because the passion for the sport is passed from generation to generation. Research by sporting nutrition brand Myprotein found that while America has had the most success in the Olympics, Australia is in fact the sportiest country in the world. When you look at their past success in sports such as cricket, rugby and even tennis, it is clear to see why. Once those inspiring players and athletes retire, they are still able to share their wisdom on training properly and eating the right nutrition to provide the energy needed to succeed.
Does the climate lend itself to the sport?
Another major factor in the likelihood of a country being successful in a particular sport is the climate. Just like the movie Cool Runnings suggests, it was always going to be unlikely that Jamaica would have a successful bobsled team. The hot temperatures make it a lot more difficult to keep a training track up and running compared to a much colder country like Russia.
A particular climate could even have a big effect on an athlete’s performance in a particular tournament. For example, an athlete could be the number one in their country at a particular sport but might struggle to adapt to playing in a different country’s climate. If the temperature is much hotter or much colder, their body might not be able to perform as well. This is why many football teams based in colder climates travel to hotter countries to train during their summer break - so they can prepare themselves to play in hotter temperatures if needed.
The best athletes need the best facilities
Unfortunately, just like anything in life, money has a big impact on a country’s ability to train and develop athletes. For most of the world’s greatest athletes, their sport is their full-time job. The only way that this can be possible is if they can receive enough money or funding to pay for their salary, so they can focus completely on becoming the best athlete possible instead of having to worry about training alongside a job.
For some of the richest countries, this funding is readily available. For other countries, there just isn’t the money to spare on certain sports. Some sports, like football, are able to fund themselves through sponsorship on items like stadium banners and playing kits as well as the big advertising revenues when games are shown on television.
For other sports (especially Olympic sports where the athletes are really only seen by a worldwide audience every four years and sponsorship is not allowed on kits) it can be a lot more difficult to raise enough revenue to fund the purchase of essential equipment, let alone a salary for the athlete. Even some of the biggest events, like the 100-metre sprint, which only last a few seconds, still require a lot of funding for the athlete to train enough to reach the most elite levels.
Unless you have immense natural talent, it is highly unlikely you would be able to compete on the world stage if you treat the sport as a hobby rather than a career.
Power of the population
Another major factor of a country’s ability to find successful athletes is quite simply down to numbers. If you have a large population, you have a better chance of producing an extremely talented athlete within that population. As some countries, like the USA, have hundreds of millions of people, there’s a much wider group of people to choose from than some of the smaller countries, which might have less than a million people.
A great example of this is looking at Great Britain. In Olympic sports, England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland collectively compete as part of the same team, known as Team GB. When it comes to other sports like football or rugby, they all have their own separate teams. While England (the most populated country) is still able to field a consistently successful side, the other three countries often struggle to qualify for some of the major football tournaments.
The X Factor
Of course, while all of the reasons mentioned are good indicators of why a country might be better than another in a particular match, game or tournament, there is not always one strict rule.
Sometimes the underdogs suddenly stun the rest of the globe with an incredible performance, even if their country has never previously had a good record in the sport. Sometimes there may just be a generation of players, or even a particular squad or athlete, that have the ability to succeed despite all of the odds being against them.
That unpredictability is the reason why people love to watch sport and why it is one of the most popular hobbies across the world.