By Sen. John Thune
In just a few short days, athletes from around the world, including South Dakota’s own Paige McPherson, will meet in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, for the 2016 Olympic Games, followed shortly thereafter by the Paralympic Games. Ask any of these competitors and they will tell you that representing the red, white, and blue for this centuries-old tradition will mark the pinnacle in many of their athletic careers.
Becoming an Olympian doesn’t happen overnight. For many members of Team USA, it’s the culmination of years of relentless training and hard work, a significant financial commitment, and an immeasurable amount of sacrifice. It’s no understatement to say that for these high-performing athletes, the chance to compete for an Olympic medal on this world stage is an opportunity second to none.
While all members of Team USA will be celebrated by their friends, families, and communities, it’s the athletes who earn a medal at this year’s games who will be welcomed home with an extra dose of congratulations. There will be parades, parties, and celebrations of all kinds for those who fight hard and come home with gold, silver, or bronze in hand. It’s unfortunate that rather than focusing on these competitors and their success, the IRS will instead have its tax-collecting eyes focused squarely on the value of our athletes’ prizes.
Just when you thought everyone’s favorite federal government agency couldn’t do anything else that would shock you, many people will be surprised to learn that the IRS considers winning the Olympics or Paralympics as a taxable event. That’s right, the value of a competitor’s medal gets tacked onto his or her federal tax bill at the end of each year. I’ve long believed this tax on Olympic and Paralympic success is unfair, and I’m fighting to have it abolished.
The United States Appreciation for Olympians and Paralympians Act, a bipartisan bill I reintroduced earlier this year, would exempt the small cash incentive prizes received by winning athletes and the value of their Olympic or Paralympic medals from federal tax. Doing so is fair, common sense, and sends the right message to Team USA, both present and future.
Like our athletes in Brazil, my bill still faces a few hurdles. While it was approved in the Senate without a single dissenting vote, it has yet to be considered by my colleagues in the House, and it’s unlikely to become law before the Olympic torch is extinguished in Rio. That won’t stop me from working hard to get this bill across the finish line this year, which would be a responsible step toward showing our athletes how much our nation values their commitment to Olympic success.