The Mexican Olympic team brought home four bronze medals and seven fourth-place finishes from the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, which wrapped up on the weekend.
Medals came in men’s soccer; mixed archery for Alejandra Valencia and Luis Álvarez; the women’s synchronized 10-meter diving for Alejandra Orozco and Gaby Agúndez; and in the women’s weightlifting for Aremi Fuentes.
The tally fell short of the 12 medals predicted by Sport Commission (Conade) head and Athens 1994 Olympic silver medalist Ana Guevara. Expectations were also heightened by the country’s outstanding performance at the 2019 Pan American Games, where it won 136 medals, 37 of them gold.
One hundred and sixty-three athletes participated at the Games, the most in 50 years, with first time appearances in events like softball, where the team came fourth, gymnastics trampoline, rhythmic gymnastics and women’s wrestling. The performance was far from the country’s worst: in Paris 1900, Rome 1960, Tokyo 1964 and Atlanta 1996 it only claimed one bronze medal.
Swimming bronze medalist at the 1968 Mexico City Games, María Teresa Ramírez, said the Covid-19 pandemic had made preparation difficult for athletes. “It wasn’t easy for Mexico. The pandemic made everything difficult. When an athlete prepares for a world-class event there are many years at stake. Everything is planned. I talked to a lot of athletes and they tried to maintain a good attitude despite the circumstances. They trained wherever they could … On an emotional level they were affected. I was told there were athletes who felt alone, they trained alone,” she said.
“That’s the way sports are — if you’re not on the podium it looks like you didn’t do the work … it’s cruel,” she added.
The results have also been attributed to organizational issues and a lack of funding. In Mexico there is no ministry of sports unlike in sporting superpowers such as China or the United Kingdom. Instead, Conade reports to the Ministry of Education. The budget changes each year, and varies depending on the administration.
The budget has decreased 51% in the last 10 years in real terms, according to the magazine Expansión. Conade received 2.67 billion pesos this year, equivalent to 0.056% of the national budget. In 2011, it was allocated significantly more at 0.21% of the budget.
The 2012 London Olympic Games saw Mexico’s best performance in history, and it was also the year that Conade was given the highest level of funding.
Wrestling silver medalist at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games, Daniel Aceves, put the responsibility squarely at the door of government authorities. “It has to be a decision of the executive and legislative branches to attribute greater importance to sports through the national budget,” he said.