Turns out you really can put a price on a gold medal. Swim and win gold for Australia and you’ll get $35 000 from Swimming Australia.

The most exciting bit of the whole swim

Try your best but don’t make the cut? The best that you can hope for is the remains of the $10k payment all 47 members of the Australian swim team received at the start of July when Swimming Australia signed a sponsorship deal with Energy Australia.

Fair enough? You bet it is. Just ask anyone who’s spent a portion of their life working their bum off to get ahead. It’s not always easy, and there are no guarantees, which makes it even more important to do a job you love.

And that’s where these Olympic stars have an advantage. All 47 members spend their days putting in gruelling hours at the pool and gym, but at least it’s a commitment to a sport they love. Not only that, they’re working towards one of the most exciting times in their lives, a chance to represent Australia in the Olympic Games.

That’s a privilege in anyone’s books but when you’re athlete, it’s an experience of a lifetime. But not everyone sees it that way.

With only seventeen days until competition starts, head of Swimming Australia’s union, Daniel Kowalski, told reporters the hopeful Olympians are fed up with unfair pay and working conditions.

Here’s how things currently stand. The average top 20 Australian swimmer receives $20, 000 a year, a payment that works out to be approximately $382 a week. That’s considerably less than the average weekly wage of $606.40.

Kowalski says this is barely enough to cover living expenses for athletes whose training and body maintenance commitments leave them very little time for work. He also says the structured payment system that only awards the elite swimmer is an insult to all other members of the team that work just as hard.

It’s hard to argue that $382 a week is a comfortable income, but then again, swimming is not the world’s most exciting spectator sport. Compare it to elite AFL or league players like Benji Marshall or Chris Judd who earn anything between $500k and $1m a year. Their careers might not be much longer but their exposure and publicity is easily one hundred times more.

Not only do we get to watch the game once a week all season, but the game is more exciting. In swimming all the action is under water, and spectators excitement also relies heavily on nationalism, rather than enjoyment of the sport itself.

All our Olympic hopefuls deserve our support and admiration, and the Aussie swim team are easy to love. But with just over two weeks this whole drama come across as your classic sporting money grab a few days before athletes go into elite competition.

Follow me on Twitter: @lucyjk

Most commented


Show oldest | newest first

    • Zeta says:

      11:39am | 10/07/12

      Wait, we’re supposed to feel sympathy for the financial situation of people who perform a recreational activity for a living?

      Professional sport isn’t a profession, it’s something fun you get paid for, like video game testing, or prostitution.

    • pa_kelvin says:

      07:39pm | 10/07/12

      Correct me if I’m wrong,but wasn’t the Olympics originally a Amateur sport ie no money involved?

    • Gratuitous Adviser says:

      09:48pm | 10/07/12

      This thing with the swimmers is one of the reasons I have difficulty getting into the spirit of supporting sports anymore. That and Oi, OI, Oi.

      It’s the same feeling I have with charities after you learn that the collecters and cold callers are on a bonus system.

      Question:  Who is on the bigger salary?  John Coates or Julia Gillard (New salary incl 5% recent increase).

      Answer: Coates >= Gillard x 4

    • Traxster says:

      10:49am | 11/07/12

      Zeta,do you really think that prostitution is….......
      ‘something fun you get paid for ‘?

    • Flutz says:

      12:01pm | 10/07/12

      No-one forced them to make swimming their job - they CHOSE it.  Like anyone else if you don’t like the pay and/or conditions of your chosen job; feel free to change jobs.  Most swimmers are still pretty young and others of the same age are trying to get through university and pay their liviing expenses on similar or less money than these swimmers. University studies don’t leave a whole lot of time for much work either.

    • Tim says:

      12:01pm | 10/07/12

      I agree with Kowalski.

      I mean it’s not like these athletes could choose to do something else that paid more.

    • KH says:

      12:52pm | 10/07/12

      Ah, yeah they could.  It just wouldn’t be swimming.

    • Tim says:

      03:34pm | 10/07/12

      no that’s completely unfair.

      Don’t you know that swimming is the only thing these people could possibly do? There is absolutely nothing else that they could do.

    • Abe says:

      12:11pm | 10/07/12

      I wish they didn’t get even one dollar of my tax.
      If you want to do your hobby all day everyday then great for you but support yourself, don’t ask me to pay for it.

    • AdamC says:

      12:19pm | 10/07/12

      You don’t become a swimmer for the money. Being a swimmer with money is like winning the lottery. That, and athletes aren’t wage labourers. It wasn’t so long ago that Olympians were expected to be amateurs.

    • Mahhrat says:

      12:20pm | 10/07/12

      It’s funny actually, because I’ve always seen sports like swimming as a sort of microcosm of laissez-faire capitalism.

      You can work as hard as you want, but you only get what people are willing to give you to perform your work.  There is only a “market” for half a dozen or so swimmers to actually make money through things like sponsorship, so you’re going to have a bad time financially unless you’re one of the very best six.

      The best part is, while it’s usually for performance (and we Australians certainly don’t like to support losers), you can get that kind of money simply for having…other attributes.  Sex sells, and swimmers have great physiques.

      I think their argument is a fair one, if we accept the notion that we need more than three elite swimmers.  Given relays need four, plus there are multiple disciplines, plus swimming is a popular Australian sport, they could probably do with a hand, but certainly not to the lengths they probably feel entitled.

    • Kirsty says:

      03:12pm | 10/07/12

      “Laissez-faire capitalism” possibly one of the best descriptions you could apply to this situation.

    • SM says:

      12:20pm | 10/07/12

      Kowalski raising this issue now actually goes to the cause of the problem.  Outside of times like the Olympics, no-one gives a hoot about swimming (or any other olympic sport).  Sure people tune in now to cheer the aussies on, but for the other 200+ weeks every 4 years, no one cares and the sport and it receives no coverage.  As such, there’s no money generated to be divied up amongst the sport’s elite.

      By raising the issue now just out from the games, at least he’ll get his message heard

    • Mahhrat says:

      03:40pm | 10/07/12

      Dude, the national swimming championships are on Channel 9 every year without fail.

      Saying that, you’re right:  it’s not the kind of thing you’d watch week in and out, because it’s not a team sport that breeds tribalism.

    • TheBigMicka says:

      12:29pm | 10/07/12

      They should do a nude calendar.

    • Kate says:

      10:51am | 11/07/12

      Agreed. I would pay a lot of money to have a naked James Magnussen or Eamon Sullivan in my house, even if it was just a photo.

    • Old fart says:

      12:55pm | 10/07/12

      I have a family member who is a Gold Medal winner, I am constantly at loggerheads with the parent, as I don’t think this can be classified as a “Job”. But “Its a record” I am told.
      Its a SPORT or a GAME. Not an occupation. Same as football, cricket etc.
      Don’t get me wrong, love to see them win, but….its still only a sport.

    • Tubesteak says:

      12:56pm | 10/07/12

      If you can’t afford to make a living out of it then don’t do it

      Everything in life is about money and everything in life costs money. If what you do doesn’t earn enough then you need to do something else that earns more

    • Bertrand says:

      10:52pm | 10/07/12

      “Everything in life is about money”

      You must be a sad little man.

    • Anubis says:

      01:02pm | 10/07/12

      Wasn’t the Olympics recreated for Amateur sports people?

    • CJ says:

      01:02pm | 10/07/12

      Only the most brain-dead dullard could become excited watching a swimming race. OK, maybe the first swimming race in history was mildly amusing, but since then, each race has looked exactly the same as the one before:
      1. Competitors line up on starting blocks.
      2. Competitors dive into the pool.
      3. Competitors swim back and forth in a straight line using the exact same technique as the person next to them.
      4. Race ends when leading competitor touches the pool wall.
      No wonder the sport relies on the silly, screaming histrionics of the likes of “commentators” Ray Warren and Craig Hamilton to try and drum up a bit of emotion: “He’s still swimming in a straight line! He’s still swimming in a straight line!! Oh my god ladies and gentlemen, HE’S STILL SWIMMING IN A STRAIGHT LINE!!!”
      And these people expect big money so they can play in the pool? Give me a break. Lawn bowls is infinitely more interesting to watch and there are no millionaires in that sport.

    • Ally says:

      04:22pm | 10/07/12

      That’s a bit harsh. By your criteria you could also place any sport that’s “first over the line” in the same box, because they’re all doing the same thing to get to the line first. So goodbye all forms of running, horse racing, car racing etc

      Anyone that reckons swimming can’t be exciting needs to watch the 4x100m men’s relay from the Sydney games. Ian Thorpe overtaking Gary Hall Jr in the last 30m to win by a few hundreds of a second after being nearly a body length behind was an incredible bit of athleticism, power and technique.

    • Admiral Ackbar says:

      06:40pm | 10/07/12

      I’m with CJ on this. They could at least make it mildly entertaining by giving the swimmers manatees to ride on while trying to knock each other off with morningstars. Alternatively they could release piranhas into the pool, or those little fish that when you pee they swim up your pee hole, although not directly observable, just the knowledge of the fact would be hilarious. Just like they could make AFL semi watchable if they added a multi-ball round.

    • Inky says:

      07:20pm | 10/07/12

      ” Just like they could make AFL semi watchable if they added a multi-ball round.”

      As much as I normally scorn anything that even vaguely resembles the code wars, everything is improved by the addition of Multi-Ball.

    • Ohcomeon says:

      09:29am | 11/07/12

      “Anyone that reckons swimming can’t be exciting needs to watch the 4x100m men’s relay from the Sydney games. Ian Thorpe overtaking Gary Hall Jr in the last 30m to win by a few hundreds of a second”

      Even that description started putting me to sleep.

      It infuriates me that so much tax money is plowed into swimming. I like live music, wheres my subsidised practice rooms, subsidised gigs, subsidised events and free equipment?

    • KH says:

      01:03pm | 10/07/12

      I think they have it more than fair when you consider that a lot of the countries they are up against don’t support their athletes at all - they have to earn money through sponsorship.  They have a damn nerve to complain when tafes and universities are struggling or even closing down - these places are educating people for long term career prospects, not a short lived moment of glory in a pool that most people will forget in a couple of years, yet we never hear of all these sport programmes getting their funding cut or closed down.  Ultimately, anyone who wins a gold medal is bound to get sponsorships, advertising and if they are good looking enough, a ‘media career’.  If they are any good, they won’t do too badly out of it unless they king hit someone in a bar…..........

    • Ags says:

      09:25pm | 10/07/12

      Ally, must get a life. That was not exciting, unless you don’t have a life.

    • Decko says:

      01:09pm | 10/07/12

      Your article is spot on in every respect but one; they aren’t really that easy to love, australian swimmers strike me as bunch of tools, full of themselves and quite stupid

    • NigelC says:

      01:52pm | 10/07/12

      I’m sure they speak very highly of you.

    • Decko says:

      03:56pm | 10/07/12

      Yes but Nigel I’m not asking the govt to give me any money (which is really what they’re asking for), indeed I just pay something like 100k in income tax. And I’mnot sure I care what they think of me

    • Inky says:

      05:51pm | 10/07/12

      Someone pointed out in another article how everyone holds all these qualification, but I notice more that everyone else on the Punch seems to pay more in TAX than I EARN in a year.

      Where are all these high paying jobs, where people still have time to fart around on the punch, and how can I get one?

    • Bertrand says:

      06:29pm | 10/07/12

      @Inky - very high incomes comes from investments not wages.

      Make your money work for you so you don’t have to so much!

    • Inky says:

      07:02pm | 10/07/12

      I have investments, but they don’t give me nearly that much. I don’t have the capital to get those kinds of returns.

    • Justme says:

      01:24pm | 10/07/12

      It’s a fact of life in Aus that sports people get accolades, sponsorship and glory. My son is brilliant at maths, classical music and science. He aces every test thrown at him including off the chart scores across all Naplan subjects. But who gets the pats on the back and recognition at school assembly? The volleyball/footy/netball teams.  He often says jokingly (i hope) that he’d give half his intelligence away for a chance to be one of the sporty kids for a while because they get the recognition he craves. What are we doing to our kids these days? By the way he is only 10 years old.

    • SM says:

      02:33pm | 10/07/12

      Not sure he deserves that many plaudits, he sounds like a gifted kid who hasn’t had to struggle that much to achieve what he has.

    • LJ Dots says:

      01:25pm | 10/07/12

      I must admit, my first thought was this is just another money grab by greedy elite athletes, but after looking at the Annual Report for Swimming Australia (the ones making the payment), I’m not so sure.
      PDF here: http://tiny.cc/e3m7gw

      At the moment, Swimming Australia are looking at an outlay of 470K for the 47 swimmers, give or take a gold medal or so. The revenue generated by Swimming Australia dwarfs this figure, eg

      Grants 7.9M, Sponsorship 5.9M, Fees 1.2 M, Events 755K

      Of course operating expenses, coaches, support, contractors etc cut into this, but at around 6M. So approximate revenue is around 18M with expenses at 14M so the claim by the swimmers does not seem that outrageous in comparison.

      Still, I prefer Basketball over swimming. Good luck with that elusive gold medal Lauren Jackson.

    • Wilma J Craig says:

      01:28pm | 10/07/12

      Are the following over yet?
      1) The Tour de France
      2)  The Olympics
      Neither are “Sports” any more. They are simply money-making rackets for some & venues to try out new, illegal, performance-enhancing Drugs which, at present, are undetectable or new Prescription Drugs which slip in under the list of Banned Substances so that these spoilt, arrogant poppets can get a good night’s sleep to counteract the Uppers they fill themselves with at breakfast & lunch.

    • John Coates, OBE, AOC says:

      01:49pm | 10/07/12

      Well, may I just say I am mightily pis..d off. What is it with you, Australians? I advocate flood levy being replaced by Olympics levy and not by some piddling 0.5% but more like 5% of everyone’s salary. I will not stop until every Australian swimmer (except that weed Nick D’Arcy), archer, pentathlete, diver, equestrian sportperson and every other Olympian will earn at least $100k per year.

      This is a small price to pay for golden glow of medals from London and any other Olympics. You know you want it, you will feel sexier, fitter and really happy to be an Ausralian if our brave rowers beat those ‘orrible Poms.

    • kitteh says:

      02:15pm | 10/07/12

      ‘It’s hard to argue that $382 a week is a comfortable income…Compare it to elite AFL or league players like Benji Marshall or Chris Judd who earn anything between $500k and $1m a year.’

      I agree that this is completely unfair. Based on their skills, value and contribution to society,  Marshall and Judd should also earn $382 a week.

    • Ally says:

      04:03pm | 10/07/12

      Hmm, I’m torn over this.

      On one hand, as others have pointed out, these swimmers are being paid to train and compete for a sport, something they love to do. They’re not really contributing anything to society outside a bit of collective national pride if one of them happens to do well every four years. As well as this, other professional athletes have shown that its possible, although difficult, to maintain jobs and studies while training and competing. And although $382 a week does indeed sound pretty paltry, it’s also likely they receive food and accommodation when they’re in training camps, plus travel and medical expenses.

      But on the other hand, we should be looking at what their swimming generates for Swimming Australia or the AOC or even the broadcasters. Maybe the athletes should receive a cut of the massive amount of money that gets generated through broadcasting rights or merchandising when the Olympics or Commonwealth Games occur. After all, there would be no games without the athletes there to compete.

    • Darren says:

      04:11pm | 10/07/12

      I hope they all go on strike! then we wont have to but up with all the bullshit that goes with the Olympics.

    • stephen says:

      05:37pm | 10/07/12

      If they want to be treated like the normal workers, then they can get hit with HECS, and pay back all the training expenses at the AIS which the taxpayer incurred.

      And there’s another thing : I dispute that Athletes - any Athlete, anywhere - works hard only to be a token for their country, that they train for representation of a flag, and I maintain that they only say they do because they get trained for free, they get sponsorship and the glory of a Title, so really, they’d get roasted if the DIDN’T say it is for my country

      And another thing, if such activities were for the glory of your country, then why so many personal comeback ?

      Huh ?

    • ron says:

      09:12pm | 10/07/12

      There is no amateurism anymore in sport. I remember a day when our best sportsmen were plumbers, brickies, sparkies who turned out after work for practice, and then played at the weekends.  If they were lucky they got 10 quid in the hand.

    • Debbie says:

      09:38pm | 10/07/12

      I think you will find it is the families that bear the brunt of the financial support for most serious athletes. I have a child who dreams of being an olympic gymnast, She already trains 12 hours a week, our coaching fees alone are nearly $1000 per term, plus competitions, flying interstate, clothing and aids they need. It is not cheap and we do it because we want her to be able to fulfill her potential and her dreams. She is really good, came second in the state championships at the age of 8. She is now 9 and at a level where she could achieve her dream. Trust me $382 per week wouldn;t even begin to touch the costs of training to be a serious athlete in whatever sport you compete in. So next time we begrudge our swimmers a pay rise, think about how much hard work they and their families put in, their dedication for years and years and how we as a nation love to win and see our athletes win.

    • Bertrand says:

      11:18pm | 10/07/12

      If your child truly wants to be an Olympic gymnast they will need to put in far more than 12 hours a week. I’m not being cruel, or mean, or unsupportive of your child’s dreams, just stating the unfortunate truth.

      In my teenage years I was very much into gymnastics… it was my life. I trained at least 20 hours a week ( 3 X 2 hour flexibility and strength sessions; 2 X 3 hour skills sessions; 1 X 8 hour skills and fitness sessions). By the time I hit 15 I was told quite plainly I would not progress any further unless I doubled my commitment to the sport.

      I feel sorry for the people who compete in solo Olympic sports. To succeed you need to sacrifice your entire life. Yet, for every kid who sacrifices everything to make it to the top, maybe 1 in 100 will get anywhere close to the level expected to represent your country at the Olympics.

      I will add that gymnastics is a very risky sport for girls to participate in. It seriously stunts their physical development. A lot of female gymnasts have trouble reaching puberty, which then leads to ongoing problems with growth. Gymnastics is a fantastic sport - I would not be the person I am today if it were not for gymnastics; it taught me discipline and perseverance. It taught me to understand and respect my body and to look after it. Gymnastics gifted me with a level of fitness I would never have achieved otherwise.

      However, it should be pursued for fun, not for Olympic glory. If your child is seriously intent on becoming an Olympic gymnast she needs to know that it will require the complete sacrifice of her life.

      As you said, families bear the brunt of the financial hardship. Unfortunately, it is the athletes who need to give up every other aspect of their lives to reach the level expected of Olympic athletes. I have issues with these levels of sacrifice and I don’t believe the promise of Olympic glory is worth the sacrifice.

    • PG says:

      11:05pm | 10/07/12

      Boo fucking hoo. I was at the AIS recently, which I had to pay for out of my own pocket because my sport isn’t swimming. They have a $70 million pool for the swimmers FFS. Do they really expect anyone to give a shit when they are in a sport where they can actually get sponsors, and maybe if they are good they can sign a TV deal after they retire? In many sports, the officials don’t even have their expenses covered. I won’t be watching the swimming this Olympics, I’ll be watching sports where the athletes still have the Olympic spirit.

    • Sports Manager says:

      11:36pm | 10/07/12

      Pfft swimmers, how about all the other athletes like our shooters, discus throwers and walkers, who have full-time jobs other than their Olympic hobby & still seem to compete without whinging. Get a good manager and get some sponsors, most professional athletes make half their pay in sponsorships rather than their contracts. Some good exposure and PR will do you wonders.

    • BillC says:

      10:24am | 11/07/12

      As an elite (not professional as dont make any money out of it) Triathlete $382 wouldn’t even pay for 4 days of food, I eat about 4500 calories (avg diet is 2000) a day, and I’m 66kgs! What most of you posters forget is that for every athlete who makes the olympic team, 100s if not 1000s Don’t and train just as hard.
      Speaking from a triathlete perspective, the average AIS coach has a salary of $120,000 a year and the average athlete on an AIS scholarship earns $10,000 a year. There is an enourmous imbalance! It would be fair to say that swimming would be similar.
      For these elite athletes, to trully be elite they can’t do anything else. They simply have no time to study or work. The training might only be 4-6hrs a day, but the recovery from sessions is about the same period of time (for every hour you train, you need about an hour to recover). Hence when many of these athletes retire in their mid 20’s for 90+% of them, they will no longer be sponsored, have no media roles and have no education beyond school.
      Excellence in all areas should be encouraged, the same applies for scientists, medical work, artists and writers. Now you may argue that athletes give nothing back to society. But what about all those millions of kids who have been inspired by the athletic feats of people such as Ian Thorpe. With an obesity epedemic in Australia, which is not only ruining our quality of life, it is also hurting our economy (added health costs, lower productivity) we should be supporting athletic role models.

    • Decko says:

      02:37pm | 11/07/12

      Since we started paying these people obesity has got worse, theres no correlation between elite sport success and increasing activity levels in the general community, it’s a bullshit argument

    • Stone age liberal says:

      03:21pm | 11/07/12

      so tax payers pay 10k a year for someone to train runnig up and down the beach, and you try to justify this as a good thing?


Facebook Recommendations

Read all about it

Punch live

Up to the minute Twitter chatter

Recent posts

The latest and greatest

The Punch is moving house

The Punch is moving house

Good morning Punchers. After four years of excellent fun and great conversation, this is the final post…

Will Pope Francis have the vision to tackle this?

Will Pope Francis have the vision to tackle this?

I have had some close calls, one that involved what looked to me like an AK47 pointed my way, followed…

Advocating risk management is not “victim blaming”

Advocating risk management is not “victim blaming”

In a world in which there are still people who subscribe to the vile notion that certain victims of sexual…

Nosebleed Section

choice ringside rantings

From: Hasbro, go straight to gaol, do not pass go

Tim says:

They should update other things in the game too. Instead of a get out of jail free card, they should have a Dodgy Lawyer card that not only gets you out of jail straight away but also gives you a fat payout in compensation for daring to arrest you in the first place. Instead of getting a hotel when you… [read more]

From: A guide to summer festivals especially if you wouldn’t go

Kel says:

If you want a festival for older people or for families alike, get amongst the respectable punters at Bluesfest. A truly amazing festival experience to be had of ALL AGES. And all the young "festivalgoers" usually write themselves off on the first night, only to never hear from them again the rest of… [read more]

Gentle jabs to the ribs

Superman needs saving

Superman needs saving

Can somebody please save Superman? He seems to be going through a bit of a crisis. Eighteen months ago,… Read more



Read all about it

Sign up to the free News.com.au newsletter