Keep your eyes on the black line, not the bottom line
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.
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
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