Let's help Team Estonia win 10 medals from Rio

15.08.2012, 11:17

Meelis Mandel, editor-in-chief of Äripäev, writes that as the London Olympics showed, we can keep talking about Estonia being such a small country that every Olympic medal is a huge national achievement and a miracle, but it is clearly time to set ourselves higher goals.

Since it is not only individual athletes, but also countries that compete in the Olympics, the bronze won by Gert Kanter and the silver won by Heiki Nabi are rightfully also ours. Although physically the medals may stay in their prize cabinets, we feel our pride as a nation. At that time and at that point one Estonian citizen was one of the best in the world.

This is how many people feel about their national athletes. It does not matter whether the athlete in question trains in his or her home country or abroad, or if the state has been helping him to achieve the Olympic glory or not.

It does not matter how we regard this national patriotism, but the best is to accept it and try to take full advantage of it. Olympic heroes are not only raising our self-awareness, but they help to promote our country in the world and are our best salespeople, so to speak. We should not be ashamed of it or the fact that it has been largely used by totalitarian regimes in the past.

Countries have a long time ago understood the value of an Olympic victory for national branding. “Creating” athletes who are able to win medals and bring recognition to the country should therefore be regarded similarly as attracting foreign investors to Estonia with the help of Enterprise Estonia or as helping startups to become more widely known.

We should be happy of our two Olympic medals, but at the same time we should ask ourselves how we can get more in four years time. Funding top-level athletes should be regarded as an investment that is subject to similar feasibility requirements as business investments.

As an outspoken Finnish minister of foreign trade, Alexander Stubb, fittingly said, it was time to start thinking in earnest how to increase Finland’s medal tally for the upcoming summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

Stubb’s idea was to create Team Finland that is made up between 40 to 50 individual top athletes and an equal number of corporations. Every corporation would hire one athlete for four years and make sure that the athlete can prepare for the Olympics in the best possible way. In his opinion, such a preparation could cost up to 100,000 euros a year.

In return, these athletes could accompany the country’s political and business leaders in foreign visits aimed at promoting Finland as an investment destination.
If we were to take this example and put it in Estonia’s context, I can see about twenty athletes and teams, say in rowing, who could enter this programme and who could benefit from such a novel approach.

I am sure that if an Estonian business delegation would include such a well-known athlete, it would greatly help to raise awareness about Estonia, open doors and help attract more investments from abroad.

Imagine what would happen if the Estonian business delegation during a state visit to Japan would be accompanied by Baruto. Which brings us to the point that it is high time to make sumo-wrestling an Olympic event.

While the business world is based on cold calculations, one needs emotions to raise the initial attention. This is where well-known athletes are invaluable.
Estonia could hardly hope to produce any Hollywood stars in the near future with state funding, but we can definitely able to create good conditions for the birth of Olympic winners.

Why cannot Estonia set itself a national target to bringing a certain number of medals – say, five or ten – from the Rio Olympics? After all, nothing stopped Estonian shipping company Tallink to beat the odds and buy Silja Line, the Finnish pride, or four software developers from Estonia to make Skype a global corporation.
What would such a target cost? And who would be the athletes to enter such a programme? Let’s not leave these athletes alone in finding their sponsors, but let’s plan it together and help it make reality through Team Estonia.