$38 million of our tax payer dollars is going to our Olympic swimmers. Wow! they all must be buying houses in Noosa. Right?
I often see these type of headlines that follow major international events. It's become standard practice to make athletes accountable for their results, particularly when they are not up to our lofty expectations.
$38 million sounds like a fair chunk of change to spend on a bunch of swimmers, however this is investment is critical if Australia has any hope of keeping pace with the US, China, Russia, Great Britain, Germany and Canada. In simple terms the $38 million is nowhere near what these other counties are committing to their High Performance Programs including swimming.
Typically, I don't pay too much attention to the negative commentary as I assume most Aussies would know that surely our athletes are not receiving excessive amounts of money. My assumptions were proved surprisingly wrong this morning - let me explain further. Every morning I drag my sorry backside out of bed to join a bunch of mates for a spin around the block on our bikes. We always finish up at our local cafe and chat about "all things" over coffee. This last week the Olympics have been our default subject. Today one of lads started the conversation with the following, "Hey Phil, I hear we are paying your athletes $38 million huh?" I almost choked on my double shot soy latte and spent the next 15 minutes explaining where that $38 million goes and that athletes see very little of it.
I'm more concerned about this ridiculous perception that our Olympians are living the "Life of Riley" by way of handouts from Australian taxpayers. The facts are this funding goes towards the entire high performance program which includes coaching, sports dieticians, sports psychology, physio, international competition, training camps and more. All are fundamental to any successful high performance program.
Many athletes, unless they are at the absolute peak of their sport (or have made it in the UK, US or European leagues in sports such as football, basketball or baseball), make extreme sacrifices to compete at Olympic level. Of the 422 Rio athletes only a few would have managers/agents. M5 have 8 Olympians and Paralympians competing in RIO. I would estimate that 90% of the Australian team would not have any kind of representation; they are left to fend for themselves.
At M5 we are very active in securing both cash and product support for all of our clients and although we do have many wins, it would be fair to say that our Olympians still may need to self-fund the cost of staying in their sports.Here are some examples
Jess Ashwood RIO Olympian, Swimmer
As a World Championship bronze medallist, Jess receives the maximum AIS grant of $32,000, and she has her coaching and massage paid for. That's it. Jess then funds her rent, travel to and from training, groceries, and other living costs that we all deal with. Jess does try to work a second job but her university studies (Jess is studying Criminology) leave her very limited time to earn extra money.
Brittany Broben Selected for Rio - Diver (Silver Medallist, London 2012)
Due to an extended injury period Brittany lost her AIS Gran. Her coaching and physio is paid for. That's it. Britt funds her travel to and from training Gold Coast to Brisbane every day) and she lives at home with her mum. To add to this sacrifice, Britt failed to recover from injury and was unable to compete in Rio.Danielle Prince Rio Olympian - Rhythmic Gymnast
Prior to her RIO selection Danni had not qualified for AIS funding. Danni funds her travel to international competitions, which are mostly in Europe. She is also required to pay for her own choreography, competition leotards Medical Services (Physio, sports doctor, exercise physiologist, massage, specialist doctors - cardiologist) Training equipment (Apparatus, shoes, training clothes), Gym fees for cross training programRyan Fisher Rio Olympian - Triathlete
Ryan receives an AIS grant of $5,000 and his coaching and other high performance support such as physio and massage are funded by Triathlon Australia. He also receives travel and accommodation subsidies based on his results. That's it. Ryan relies on sponsorship arrangements to subsidise his running shoes, bikes, swimming equipment and nutrition. These are all product-only arrangements.I look at Cate Campbell and how she seemed compelled to apologise to Australians for her performance, she even used the word choke that we love to throw out when our heroes under deliver. Again WOW! Here we have a girl that has dedicated her entire life to her sport, she constantly plays down her hopes of winning gold, and then feels compelled to apologise when she doesn't meet public expectations.
However, the majority of our Olympians understand that gold medals don't equal fortune and fame; for them the representation of their country at world's biggest event and the chance to take the Olympic journey is all they need. Continuing to fund the journey - supporting and inspiring the next generation of athletes - is a worthwhile endeavour.