Of the 6,090 Olympic medals awarded to athletes between 2000 and 2018, 133 were subsequently stripped from their recipients by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) – primarily due to doping. Each Olympic cycle results in reversal of awarded medals, so it is likely that the Tokyo Olympics will experience the same issues.
This raises an interesting question: Are certain countries’ athletes more prone to rule violations that result in their Olympic medals being invalidated?
Apart from looking at historic medal statistics, one possible predictive measure is to compare the Corruption Perception Index (CPI). The prediction being that countries with low CPI scores, which indicates a higher perceived corruption, are more likely to have had stripped Olympic medals. The assumption being that a country’s athletes’ acceptance of corruption is, to some extent, a reflection of the nation the athlete represents.
The CPI by Transparency International “ranks 180 countries and territories by their perceived levels of public sector corruption according to experts and businesspeople. [It] uses a scale of 0 to 100, where zero is highly corrupt and 100 is very clean.”
To analyze whether the correlation exists, several parameters were set, including:
- Only the top 50 countries by medals won were included in the analysis.
- Though the CPI is released yearly, the 2018 version is used as it coincides with the most recent edition of the Olympic Games.
- Data from 2000 through 2018 was included in the analysis.
- The analysis was performed using percentage of medals stripped rather than total medals stripped to ensure the countries that win more medals were portrayed fairly.
The data indicates a strong correlation between the number of stripped medals and a low CPI score; however, a number of countries with low CPI scores had no medals rescinded. When further analyzing this information by region, European countries have a very strong correlation between stripped Olympic medals and the CPI Index. Former Warsaw Pact countries such as Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Belarus had a high percentage of medals stripped as well as a low CPI rating. Meanwhile, Scandinavian countries such as Denmark and Finland that are consistently ranked among the least corrupt countries in the world by the CPI have never had a medal stripped from them. The same holds true in Western European countries such as the United Kingdom and France with no medals stripped and high CPI ratings.
In contrast, outside of Europe the CPI fails as an indicator of stripped medals. For example, countries such as Iran, Brazil, and Mexico with relatively low CPI scores in the 20’s and 30’s that indicate high corruption did not have any medals stripped.
It would be easy to attempt to explain this with the contrast in doping in Summer Olympics versus Winter Olympics or that some nations win medals in sports where doping is not necessary or beneficial for performance. However, this does not appear to be the case when scrutinizing the outliers. For example, Iran has had no medals stripped despite having a low CPI score. One would assume that is due to the sports they medal in not being riddled with doping. However, most of their medals have in fact come in wrestling and weightlifting, both hotspots for doping.
It is worth noting that the highest scoring nations in CPI (least corrupt) show a very strong correlation with medals stripped. The countries that grade favorably in the Corruption Perception Index have had very few medals stripped since 2000. Remarkably, of the top 50 countries in medals won, none of the nations in the top 25 of CPI have had more than 5% of their medals stripped since 2000.
Moving forward, this topic can be further explored by matching the medals stripped by year to the CPI score of the nation for that specific year. For this article, the 2018 CPI score was used for the sake of decipherability. Readers are encouraged to have a look at the data below to see what conclusions they may draw themselves.