(Australian Associated Press)
The financial, mental and physical scars of the COVID-19 pandemic on Australia’s athletes have been laid bare in a new report and could linger long after the Tokyo Olympics.
The Australian Sports Foundation report, released on Tuesday and based on an anonymous survey, found athletes’ ability to perform on the national and international stage has worsened amid the global health crisis.
Of the 521 athletes polled late last year, nearly 61 per cent reported financial losses stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Further, about half the national and international athletes said they currently earned less than $23,000 a year from all sources of income, well below the national minimum of $39,000.
“I’m not sure if I can afford to continue participating in sport to the same level as I did pre COVID-19,” a female international bobsledder said.
A female international volleyballer said she had to get a job on top of sport and study commitments to support her family, while an international gymnast lost her casual job altogether during a lockdown.
When Australian athletes turned to the government for support, only 28 per cent qualified for JobKeeper or JobSeeker.
An Australian snowsports athlete stranded in France said he could not muster up the money to fly home.
“I had no job because of this … but I also didn’t get any job keeper/seeker payments,” he wrote.
The pandemic didn’t just burn a hole in athletes’ hip pockets, with most reporting poorer mental (86 per cent) and physical health (73 per cent).
One state swimmer said she developed an eating disorder “due to the challenges and stresses and lack of escape through sport”.
“The drop into oblivion was fast and scary. The road out will be long and hard,” the para-athlete said.
If disruptions continued through 2021, as they have, close to 17 per cent of the international athletes said they would contemplate retirement.
The ASF report warned the loss of some of the nation’s best and most experienced athletes could lead to “brain drain”, creating a future dearth of sports mentors, coaches and advocates.
“This has the potential to negatively impact both community engagement and participation and the future success of our national, Olympic, Paralympic and Commonwealth Games teams in the longer term,” it said.
“(It is) a particular concern given the likelihood of Australia hosting the 2032 Olympic and Paralympic Games.”
The ASF poll was open for eight weeks, with 96 per cent of athlete responses from those outside major professional sports including Australian rules, soccer and cricket.