Alex Massie

Latin America’s Under-Performance

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Tyler Cowen is generously soliciting questions: here's mine, asked knowing that Tyler is keen on South America and capable of answering almost anything...

Why do Latin American countries perform so poorly at the Olympic Games?

The Republics of the Caucasus and Central Asia win medals in sports such as wrestling and weight-lifting, West Africa has produced sprinters while East Africans dominate distance running. So it can't just be poverty, right?

Is Latin America's comparative failure explained by a combination of poverty and physiological factors? That is to say, do Latin American countries with high Indian populations suffer from an in-built disadvantage? If so, does this help explain why Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay, three countries with greater European and, in the case of Brazil, African immigration are also the dominant (historically and currently) soccer powers on the continent?

But then you might also think Argentina and Brazil would do better in the Olympics than they do, wouldn't you? Argentina waited decades before winning golds in basketball and soccer in Athens. This is a poor return, surely, for a country with such a european-gened population. True, polo is no longer an Olympic sport and this disadvantages them, but why are there so few Argentine eventers or show jumpers?

Alternative theory: soccer is so popular that it crowds out the marketplace for other sports across the continent. (And, in Argentina, rugby which is an elite sport that draws wealthy athletes away from Olympic sports?) But really, I don't know. How would you explain it?

Relatedly, is it just the absence of rugby and cricket from the Olympics that explains South Africa's woeful performance?

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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