Sport

This theory predicts how many Olympic medals every nation will win

The 31st Olympic Games kicks off tonight in Rio with the start of the football tournament - yes, we know it's confusing when the opening ceremony isn't until Friday - and, while individual stories of sporting heroism are a huge part of the event, it's also always interesting to see how well different countries perform.

In the Cold War era, many countries put huge store on their performances at the Olympics; it was a chance to demonstrate to the world how their way of life was superior, and even since that ended, nations are keen to perform well to bolster their international reputation. This time round there's the added intrigue of how the table will be altered by the ban of many Russian athletes in the wake of their doping scandal.

So how well will Team GB, and the rest, get on? Well, a team of economists, led by Dr Julia Bredtmann, of the Leibniz Institute for Economic Research in Essen, have made some predictions.

  • This theory predicts how many Olympic medals every nation will win

    Prediction based on population and wealth

    A crude measure of predicted success would be to simply consider factors of population (the more people you've got, the more chance you have of possessing talented athletes) and wealth (if you have money, you can train those athletes to perform better). This would provide the following medal table:

    1= China 25
    1= US 25
    3 India 22
    4= Germany 20 
    4= Japan 20
    6= Brazil 19
    6= France 19
    6= Indonesia 19
    6= Russia 19
    6= UK 19

    However, in 2012, the US won over 100 medals and India only six. So this is not nuanced enough. 

    Says Bredtmann, "It's a good starting point but by using other factors we can at least explain a little bit more and improve the predictions."

  • This theory predicts how many Olympic medals every nation will win 1

    More sophisticated model (ignoring Russian ban)

    As well as population and wealth, five other factors must be considered:

    • Past Olympic success - this is synonymous with a 'sports culture' in the country
    • Host country effect - not only will the crowds be roaring the team on, but the government will likely have invested more money than usual
    • Future host effect - again, these are likely to have begun investing more
    • Planned economies - even post-Cold War, countries such as China and Cuba will value the prestige of performing well and will allocate more resources to sport
    • Majority-Muslim population - women are less likely to participate in sport, reducing the chances of winning half of the medals on offer

    This gives us:

    1 US 98
    2 Russia 84
    3 China 77
    4 UK 62
    5 Japan 46
    6 Germany 42
    7= Australia 33
    7= Brazil 33
    7= France 33
    10= Italy 27
    10= South Korea 27

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    Final prediction (reallocting Russian medals)

    But, of course, some of those Russian medals are now going to go to other countries. Keeping it simple, they've taken away the 24 medals for track and field, and weightlifting, which the country has definitely been banned from. Which gives us a final predicted table of:

    1 US 100
    2 China 86
    3 UK 64
    4 Russia 53
    5 Japan 47
    6 Germany 43
    7= Australia 34
    7= Brazil 34
    7= France 34
    10= Italy
    10= South Korea 28

    So it looks like Team GB could well get the 'bronze medal' overall. Let's wait and see...

    (Images: Rex)

    [via BBC]