Nearly Half of Aussie Athletes Live Under Poverty Line

Noah Strang
By:
Noah Strang
21/09/2023
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Nearly half of Australian Athletes are living below the poverty line

Athletes excel on the pitch, struggle off of it

News Insights

  • Recent survey shows around half of Australia’s athletes are living below the poverty line
  • Poverty line is around $23,000 AUD per year
  • Findings suggest that Australia should pay athletes more to retain top talent
  • Financial model for athletes needs to change

Despite being among the best in their respective fields, a recent survey conducted by the Australian Sports Foundation has made the determination that almost half of the best athletes in the country are earning below the national poverty line threshold.

The poverty line for Australia is 23,000 Australian dollars ($15,000 USD). It may come as a shock to those who assumed that the top athletes all managed to live well for themselves. If anything, the survey presented more questions than it did answers.

A recent survey conducted by the Australian Sports Foundation has shown that nearly half of all Australian athletes live below the national poverty line threshold, sporting an annual income of less than 23,000 AUS.

Those numbers may come as a shock to some, but those within the realm know that this has been a problem for years. There are misconceptions that athletes garner huge winnings for events like the Olympics, but that is simply not the case.

Despite millions of people watching these athletes through live streaming and other methods, they are not raking in massive amounts of money. 

Inside the Numbers

The foundation said that without an increase in financial support, there is a risk of top-tier Australian talent leaving their professions ahead of upcoming major events. Without a way to pay mortgages, rent, and other bills, it is becoming untenable for Australian athletes.

The Australian Sports Foundation polled 2,304 athletes overall with 600 of them considered to be at the international or elite level. The survey was conducted across 60 different sports as well. If anything, it highlighted the specific financial pressures that athletes face.

Those costs include things like equipment, accommodation, competition, and travel costs. Athletes also noted in the survey that they had difficulty generating income while dedicating the necessary time to be elite in their sport.

Of Australian athletes between the ages of 18 and 34, two in three elite competitors have given consideration to quitting their respective sports. If that weren’t enough, one in two athletes who have the aim of competing in the 2026 Commonwealth Games have considered leaving their sport altogether. Of those preparing for the 2032 Olympic Games in Brisbane, 43% of athletes have considered leaving their respective sports.

Comments and Quotes

When asked about the biggest costs incurred during an athletic career, former Olympic and world champion swimmer Bronte Campbell, who is now retired, said that injuries wound up costing the most overall for her specifically.

While there was some injury support provided by sponsors during that time, it couldn’t cover everything. Those costs, according to Campbell, became more than the support could offset. Athletes in Australia also have to contend with financial pressures that are only specific to them. For instance, rent and mortgage prices tend to impact athletes more than the average member of the community.

If you win an Olympic gold medal, you get a medal bonus – which is not, as someone once asked me, a million dollars,” said Campbell. She won Olympic relay gold at both the 2016 Rio Games and 2020 Tokyo Games.

It’s a lot less than that,” she continued. “But trying to support yourself in between Olympics and between times when you’re having those high performances…there’s definitely been years where if I hadn’t had success in the previous year, I don’t know how I would have made it work.

When asked about the survey, Australian Olympic Committee chief executive Matt Carroll talked about a funding shortfall that comes down to an individual level. 

Financial pressure, impacts on athletes mental health, and risks of athletes exiting their sports as a consequence is of huge concern,” said Carroll. “We are working with the government and the Australian Sports Commission on a new sport investment model. As we look to the future, particularly Brisbane 2032, we cannot afford to see these inspiring young athletes walk away from their dreams.

The hope is that sponsorships and other sports investment models will become evident in the near future. Australia’s Olympic Committee is driven to keeping elite Australian athletes with their eyes on the prize.