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Insights into community sport in Australia


Impact of COVID-19 on Australian Athletes - (May 2021)

In November and December 2020, the Australian Sports Foundation carried out a survey to understand the impact of COVID-19 on Australian athletes.

However, the results have highlighted a bigger underlying issue - namely that Australian athletes are largely underfunded, have limited financial security, and rely on their families or outside employment to survive.

The results of our survey show that most of the representative athletes who responded earn less than the national minimum wage of $39,000. While COVID-19 has worsened the financial situation of Australian athletes, our survey also lays bare a profound impact on physical and mental health, and in many cases on our athletes’ overall career aspirations.

Without financial support, the loss of some of our best and most experienced athletes would lead to the athletic equivalent of a ‘brain-drain’, creating a future lack of mentors, coaches and advocates, and those who inspire others to take up sport in Australia. This is a particular concern given the likelihood of Australia hosting the 2032 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

The full report covers the impact on Australian athletes, the issues they face which may affect their future career aspirations and delves into the sources of athlete funding in Australia.

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  • Athlete incomes remain well below minimum levels mandated in other sectors. Most of the representative athletes who responded earn less than the national minimum wage of $39,000.
  • Around 80% of respondents compete at National or International level – yet around 50% of these national/international athletes reported earning less than $23,000 from all sources (well below the $39,000 national minimum wage) – including their sport and external paid work.
  • Responses showed that most Australian representative athletes receive minimal income from sport, but also relatively little from other employment (the need for which necessarily reduces their focus on their sport).
  • Athletes are forced to rely on their families (if financially able to do so) to support their athletic careers. With many families under financial stress due to the pandemic, athletes may be forced to retire from sport to relieve this pressure.
  • Regrettably the gender pay gap is as prevalent in sport as in other sectors – a higher proportion of female athletes are in the lowest (sub $23,000) income band and a lower proportion are in the higher ($75,000 and above) income bands than their male colleagues.
  • COVID-19 simply added to this bleak financial picture – nearly 61% reported lost income, with many athletes citing termination of sponsorship deals as businesses faced their own COVID-19 related challenges. Other athletes cited lost earning opportunities and/or losses due to ongoing and sunk costs.
  • Australian athletes were largely missed by COVID-19 related support schemes: only 21% of respondents qualified for support via Jobkeeper or Jobseeker.
  • The personal and social impacts of COVID-19 on our athletes is perhaps even more significant. Negative impacts were reported on careers and families and, concerningly, on athletes’ own physical and mental health. 73% of respondents reported that the pandemic had a negative impact on their physical health, while 86% of respondents reported worsened mental health.

key Findings