Funding the Future- Exploring Costs for Australia’s Olympians and Paralympians

Funding the Future- Exploring Costs for Australia’s Olympians and Paralympians

July 10, 2024

Individual Athletes

From extravagant opening ceremonies to brand deals, sponsorships, and big "welcome home", our Olympians and Paralympians look like they’re living a high-flying life of luxury. However, looks can be deceiving. The reality for most of Australia’s elite athletes is a low-income lifestyle that depends heavily on unreliable and unpredictable sources of income to make ends meet.

While more traditional jobs pay a predetermined salary, our athletes are largely reliant on sponsorship deals and podium placements to reap the rewards of their hard work.

Although for some this is sufficient, for many, it isn’t. And what about our athletes who don’t place in the games, or who don’t make it there to begin with?

According to our 2023 Running on Empty report, 46% of Australia’s elite athletes over the age of 18 have an annual income of less than $23,000, placing them below the poverty line.

With so little money coming in, this begs the question; how much does it cost for an athlete to prepare to compete at a professional level such as at the Olympics/Paralympics, and where does this money come from?

How Much Does It Cost to Participate in The Olympics/Paralympics?

Training and competing at a world-class level takes thousands of hours over many years, often beginning straight out of school, if not during.

The 2023 European Journal of Sports Sciences study that surveyed nearly 3,000 athletes from 13 nations concluded that the average age at which world-class athletes began their sport was around 10.5 years old. The average age of an Olympic athlete is around 27, and often slightly higher for Paralympians, meaning that many hard years of work, dedication, and financial support are required before reaching an elite level.

Our 2023 Running on Empty report revealed that athletes are spending more per year on travel and accommodation for competitions ($7,974) than they are on food ($5,019), but for those who are training and competing to qualify for the Olympics, these numbers grow exponentially. While the costs will vary for each sport, four-time Olympic shooter Dan Repacholi estimates that over the course of his Olympic campaigns, he’s spent more than $1 million. For each campaign, Dan believes that he’s between $30,000 and $60,000 out of pocket. With almost half of our elite athletes earning less than half of that annually, it’s understandable that 43% of Brisbane hopefuls have considered leaving their sport.

How Are Australia’s Olympians and Paralympians Funded?

From intense training during peak seasons to tapering before competitions, elite athletes dedicate up to six hours a day, six days a week to achieve optimal physical condition.

Given the time commitment and the physical demands that rival or exceed those of a typical work week for most people, athletes often find it challenging to hold down a full-time job, and for the vast majority, income is generally insufficient to rely solely on their sport for a living. Instead, many need to balance their training schedules with part-time jobs or accept support from family and friends. Fortunately, there are several ways they can access additional funding and support.

The Australian Olympic Athlete Incentive Scheme

The Australian Olympic Committee’s Athlete Incentive Scheme enables philanthropists to make tax-deductible donations to support the nation's athletes, which can be done via two ASF projects; the Medical Incentive Fund and the Aspiring Athletes Fund. Donations to these funds provide financial support to medal-winning athletes and aspiring Olympic athletes.

Medal Incentive Fund

The Australian Olympic Committee’s (AOC) funding programs supply financial support to athletes through various channels. With a budget of $9.2 million this year, the Medal Incentive Fund will pay Olympic gold medallists a bonus of $20,000, with silver and bronze medallists receiving $15,000 and $10,000, respectively. This applies both to individual athletes and participants in team sports. For those athletic, skilled, and lucky enough to win big at this year's Summer Olympics/Paralympics in Paris, this could see them coming home with some money in the bank.

While this can be the case for a lucky few, for many, it isn’t. Until recently, Australian Paralympians were left bonus-less after a win.

After our team’s great results at the 2020 Games, the Australian Government announced that all successful Paralympians would receive the same medal bonuses as Olympians, though it remains uncertain if this will apply to future Paralympics. However, thanks to a recent $3 million fund, particularly aimed at Para-swimmers and Para-rowers, some Paralympians will be receiving medal bonuses at the Paris Games.

Aspiring Athlete Fund

Specifically, for those with their sights set on future Olympic games, the Aspiring Australian Olympic Athlete Fund provides a means of directly supporting up-and-coming athletes. This is a new fund as of 2024 and shows the commitment of the Australian Olympic Committee to developing up-and-coming athletes.

While there isn’t much detail available on the fund as of yet, it is an exciting announcement for aspiring athletes.

Aussie Athlete Fund

In addition to initiatives by the AOC, others are stepping in to try and help our athletes. A great example is the Aussie Athlete Fund, which aims to break down the financial barriers faced by our emerging elite athletes by providing access to funding, fundraising education and mentoring support – easing the burden an athlete faces once they have been selected to represent Australia.

The Aussie Athlete Fund is currently running their $1 Million Challenge, which pairs 100 Australian athletes with 100 businesses that have agreed to assist the athlete fundraise. The goal is to raise at least $10,000 per athlete – all of which is done in partnership with the ASF.

Athletes participating in the $1 Million Challenge can be supported at their individual ASF project pages or at the Aussie Athlete Fund’s project.

Sponsorships

Athletes are free to negotiate their own sponsorship deals. There are caveats to this, however, as sponsorships and opportunities can be restricted depending on factors such as the specific event, and event sponsors.

It goes without saying that the more notable the athlete, the more money they stand to make from sponsorships, while lesser-known athletes often won’t have quite as much luck in this regard. In fact, the ASF’s 2023 Your Sport Your Say survey found that sponsorships were a source of income for only 15% of elite athletes.

AIS Grant

The Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) is another organisation that offers funding to athletes. The dAIS Grant is a means-tested grant designed to support athletes deemed to have significant potential at events such as the Olympic, Paralympic, and Commonwealth Games. Eligible athletes can receive up to $17,500 twice a year through this grant.  

Fundraising

Many Australian athletes turn to fundraising to support their sporting dreams, and as the ASF is the only way to make tax-deductible donations to sport in Australia, it’s their platform of choice. 

Raising vital funding this way allows individuals to set their own goals and share their personal sporting stories with potential donors. Along with this, they can let people know about their competitive history and exactly how their donations are being used. These donations can make a valuable contribution to athlete costs, which is particularly important for those coming from lower-income families who often struggle to bear the significant out-of-pocket costs it takes to train and compete at an elite level.

For many of these athletes, the costs involved in competing in the Olympics/Paralympics begin long before the games themselves. A large number of aspiring and elite athletes need to put their skills to the test prior to the Olympics/Paralympics, either to get into form or to qualify, and attend world championship-level competitions to do so, each with a sizable price tag of a few thousand dollars.

Along with the actual competition and qualification costs, athletes who fundraise with the ASF can use donor contributions to cover transport and travel, training and recovery equipment, nutrition, accommodation, and general living expenses.

Balancing the Books

All-in-all, it’s nearly impossible to calculate the exact cost of competing in the Olympics, as an athlete representing their nation comes about from a lifetime of effort and training.

While there are grants available, fundraising and donations made on the ASF platform are a crucial element in helping athletes achieve their dreams of representing Australia in the Olympic and Paralympic Games. Athletes can sign up to start fundraising here.

If you're watching Paris 2024 this year, check out the confirmed Olympic athletes who are currently fundraising with the ASF and need your financial assistance getting to the Games. Donate today to help Australia’s athletes thrive.

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