Twenty-year-old wrestler Kyle Snyder made the 2016 Olympic Freestyle Wrestling Team, but had no money to cover expenses for the travel. So, he started raising money to make sure that his family can travel to Brazil to watch him compete.
“My goal is to become one of the greatest wrestlers that ever walked on our planet,” Snyder said on the GoFundMe crowdfunding page. “It will mean a lot to me to have my family in attendance at this very special event.”
As a college student, Snyder can’t take money from agents or sports organizations.
He is not alone. Dozens of U.S. Olympians and Paralympians had to set up campaigns to help raise money for their trips to Rio. For them, like many others all over the world, paying for training and related expenses like travel is not affordable. For such players, crowdfunding came as a blessing.
#Crowdfunding question: I have a friend who's son has qualified for the Olympics. What site would best help us raise money for him to go?— Rob Zaleski (@robzie_) July 6, 2012
Crowdfunding site GoFundMe says athletes have raised more than $750K on its site for training & travel expenses for the Olympics in Rio.— Darren Rovell (@darrenrovell) August 4, 2016
Sports may look like a lucrative industry, with the likes of Michael Phelps and Serena Williams of the world, but it is not.
Not all U.S. Olympians have celebrity status and certainly not all earn lavishly.
In fact, 50 percent of track athletes, who rank in the top 10 in the U.S. in their event, earn less than $15,000 annually from the sport.
In 2012, before the Games in London, gymnast Gabby Douglas' mother had to file for bankruptcy, in part due to “the high cost of her daughter’s training, which involved living away from home for two years.”
The United States federal government also doesn’t fund Olympic programs, though some athletes get special funding from their national governing bodies.
The United States Olympic Committee pays for the participants’ flights and accommodations but the costs of training, transporting and accommodating friends and family are not included.
Jeremy Taiwo, who is competing in the decathlon and has world and U.S. records in the high jump under his belt, has been living below the poverty line — even though his father is a two-time Olympian as well.
His part-time job as a footwear salesman at a local sporting goods shop hardly made ends meet. A $9,000 stipend from U.S.A. Track and Field, the official governing body of the sport, as well as a scholarship of between $4,000 and $5,000 wasn’t enough to take him to Rio. So he turned to raising money online.
The GoFundMe money will pay to bring his coach, physical therapists, parents and some of his closest friends to Rio. It will also enable him to pay his coach, who has been offering Taiwo his services for free.
“I need to be able to afford to pay for poles, training shoes that don’t survive the wear and tear, coaching, strength training and transport to and from meets for competition,” the athlete said.
A similar hope for such athletes is Emily White who, despite having a background in the music industry, has founded a company called Dreamfuel — a crowdfunding platform for athletes, including, but not limited to Olympians.
“Dreamfuel was born out of necessity as literally the day I met Olympic gold medalist Anthony Ervin, he told me he wanted to compete on the World Cup circuit, but didn’t know how he was going to pay for it,” she said in a recent interview.
“He was leaving in a few weeks so instead of taking the risk of trying to get a sponsor in that amount of time, I suggested we do a Kickstarter campaign,” Ervin added. “But, the Kickstarter founders rejected our campaign as they don’t work in sports. So, we quickly put together the campaign on our own, raised more than the goal, the fans became a part of the journey and Anthony was able to compete with the freedom of mind of not having to win in order to just pay off his credit card debt.”
“He came back with 16 medals, nine of them gold, and an American record,” she continued “Additionally, the campaign received so much global unsolicited press that USA Swimming has since changed their policy and now partially fund athletes who want to compete at the World Cup.”