World Athletics president Sebastian Coe pictured at the 2023 Budapest World Championships. GETTY IMAGES

ANOCA has described the initiative to award prize money at the Paris 2024 Olympics as "repugnant", with international federation chiefs angry they weren't consulted by Sebastian Coe's World Athletics, who argue it's all about recognising the role of stars.

A far cry from Baron Pierre De Coubertin's romantic conception of the modern Olympic Games, in an unprecedented move among sports federations, the president of World Athletics opted decided last week to announce that track and field gold medallists at Paris 2024 will receive $50,000 (47,000 euros) in prize money. The total prize money of $2.4 million (€2.25 million) will come from the International Olympic Committee's revenue-sharing allocation, which the federation receives every four years.

Athletics is traditionally the headline sport at the Olympics and many athletes, such as Olympic gold medallist in the men's 400m hurdles Karsten Warholm, welcomed the decision. "To be honest, anything that's offered in terms of a prize is good for the athletes, it's motivation," he told AFP. Coe, himself a double Olympic 1500m champion in the 1980s, acknowledged that his sport had long since ceased to be amateur "so it is very important that it recognises that changing landscape".

Nevertheless, the institutional criticism has been harsh to say the least, leaving some to wonder if there is a method to Coe's madness. Could political strategy be at play, with the Briton eyeing the IOC presidency that Thomas Bach is due to vacate next year? Former IOC marketing director Michael Payne believes that "if it's a presidential ploy, it's a gold medal for an own goal", telling AFP that it's the disgruntled federation presidents and other IOC members who will choose the next Olympic chief.

In a growing tide of international backlash, the Association of National Olympic Committees of Africa (ANOCA) expressed its disapproval, describing the move as "repugnant to the fundamental principles of the Olympic Movement." However, ANOCA was far from alone. Payne had previously revealed that other federation chiefs were "apoplectic with rage" following Coe's announcement.

That anger was echoed by the Association of Summer Olympic International Federations (ASOIF), which said: "The decision undermines the values of Olympism and the uniqueness of the Games. An Olympic gold medal cannot and should not be put at a price." ASOIF also complained that it had been "neither informed nor consulted before the announcement. It is important and fair to discuss the matter with the other federations beforehand".

Norwegian Karsten Warholm and Jamaican Rusheen McDonald. GETTY IMAGES
Norwegian Karsten Warholm and Jamaican Rusheen McDonald. GETTY IMAGES

In a statement on Friday responding to the fallout, World Athletics said paying prize money was "about underlining our unwavering commitment to empowering the athletes and recognising the critical role they play in the success of every Olympic Games".

It said it was impossible to put a "marketable value" on winning an Olympic medal. "However, we believe it is important to ensure that some of the revenue generated by our athletes at the Olympic Games is returned directly to those who make the Games the global spectacle that they are," the statement added.

The head of a leading Olympic sport, International Cycling Union (UCI) president David Lappartient, disagreed: "If we concentrate money on top athletes, a lot of opportunities will disappear for athletes around the world. We really believe that this is not the Olympic spirit. The proposal was not discussed."

"What surprised everyone was that Coe made the decision unilaterally, with one hour's warning to the IOC and zero hours warning to the other federations. They feel, not unreasonably, that they have been thrown under the bus. What are you going to do just three months before Paris?" Payne asked. The Irish acknowledged that Coe “has always been independent, and also a very skilled and experienced political operator," citing as an example "his brilliant campaign for London to win (the 2012 Olympics)".

In an interview with Sky Sports, British Olympic Association chief executive Andy Anson sided with Payne. "Now other sports will clearly going to come under some scrutiny or even pressure from athletes saying: 'Well what about our sport, how can that sport do it and not us?' It's a debate we can have, but we have to have it at the right time, in the right place and together," he insisted.