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Young Hunter athletes suffering as cost of living rises

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Lake Macquarie athlete Sophie Hamilton is young, fit and healthy and has a bright sporting future ahead with every chance that she could proudly represent our country on the world stage, but at what cost? 

It’s the question that has been raised in a recent Australian Sports Foundation (ASF) report. 

With less than 12 months before the 2024 Paris Olympics and nine years before the 2032 Brisbane Games, the account revealed financial insecurity was placing crippling pressure on Australia’s elite athletes. 

In fact, almost half of elite athletes (46%) over the age of 18 are earning incomes from all sources of less than $23,000 per annum, placing them below the poverty line.  

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The Hunter’s young athletes are among Australia’s 46% struggling to pay their way in elite sports.

For Warners Bay and Valentine swimmer and surf life saver Sophie, who’s greatest achievement to date has been winning bronze in the 50m butterfly in the International Children’s Games, this is a harsh reality.

The 13-year-old is considering leaving her sport due to a lack of funding and believes more sponsorship and grants would help young athletes like her reach their potential.

“My mum is a solo parent which makes it hard to afford my swimming,” she says.

Her mum Belinda Hamilton admits the cost of children’s sports can quickly add up.

“I was very naïve thinking a pair of swimmers and goggles would be the only equipment needed when Soph started swimming,” she told Newcastle Weekly.

“There are compulsory uniforms and so many other additional costs.

“I am very grateful that she has been selected for development opportunities, and this is the first year she has been invited to a NSW Swimming opportunity as well as national camp in our area (Coast and Valley), but they both cost about $200.
 
“It is a shame that they do not have more funding or sponsorship opportunities to help with the costs of competing.
 
“Also, without proper facilities (good pools with a timing system), we have to travel to Sydney a lot to swim at the Sydney Olympic Park Aquatic Centre (SOPAC).

“Just last week we had to spend six days in Sydney at the School Sport Australia Swimming Championships, which was very expensive.

“Sophie got a silver medal in the 100m backstroke and was fifth fastest in Australia for the 50m backstroke.

“With the support of regional development and investment, these athletes can achieve their dreams of representing Australia.”

athletes
Lake Macquarie swimmer Sophie Hamilton is concerned at the rising costs of competing.

The ASF commissioned report researched the experiences and issues athletes had experienced over the past 12 months to assist it in its efforts to raise additional community and philanthropic funds to provide better support emerging and representative athletes.  

The survey, open to Australian athletes from all sports with more than 2,300 athletes participating from more than 60 sports, including 604 elite athletes (national or international level), found Australia’s most talented sportspeople were in desperate need of extra assistance. 

Rising costs of living, which led to the Running On Empty report, found costs for two in five (43%) elite athletes aged 18+ had worsened over the past 12 months.  

More than half (52%) of the elite athletes surveyed were considering leaving their sport.  

Costs and financial insecurity were the biggest challenges for athletes across all competitive levels.  

Research showed Australian elite athletes were spending more each year on competition travel and accommodation than they did on food.  

The top four themes of the research findings for elite athletes showed elite athletes are in financial distress, with mental health declining and greater support in higher demand. 

Australia risks an exodus of elite athletes. 

In summary it found the green and gold runway needs greater investment in athletes. 

“Funding is my constant concern. Being a female, and in an Olympic sport which does not have high commercial support, it can be very soul destroying knowing myself and my teammates are the best in our country for our gender in a well-known Olympic sport, and yet we earn a pittance,” said one young hockey player. 

Australian Sports Foundation CEO Patrick Walker said the responses were worrying and outlined just how many elite athletes were struggling.  

“Australia prides itself on the performance of its elite athletes, but this report shows they’re not getting the assistance they need to reach their full potential,” he explained.  

“This research confirms that financial stress is contributing to poor mental health, causing an alarming number of athletes to consider leaving their sport altogether.  

“Surprisingly, very few elite athletes surveyed reported receiving financial support from a sporting body or via fundraising. Of course, sporting bodies themselves are cash-strapped and dealing with rising costs and a squeeze on income.  

“It’s crucial for our athletes that the whole sports sector works together to provide as much support as possible. We know that what athletes need in terms of finances, equipment, medical and mental health support will outweigh what government, sporting organisations or sponsorship can provide.”  

talented teens
“Athletes from country NSW had always punched above their weight in the Olympic arena.” – Minister for Regional NSW Tara Moriart – see NW article: Local teens head to Korea’s International Children’s Games

Mr Walker said the FIFA Women’s World Cup and the success of the Matildas had shown the power of sport to unite and enthral a nation.  

“This is the green and gold decade, with so many such events for us to look forward to, but they are nothing without the athletes,” he added.  

“If we lose athletes, or they can’t perform at their best, we are not leveraging the opportunity, and we know philanthropy and community support can help.” 

The survey showed one in two elite athletes (52%) who were fundraising were benefitting from the ASF online fundraising platform.  

“Australian athletes are crying out for more support, and that is why we are encouraging all athletes to look for new revenue streams, such as online fundraising. We encourage members of the community to support their local athletes and clubs whenever they can,” Mr Walker said. 

“We have people below the breadline now who are poised to be hopefuls that have to choose between travel and food, and so we’re asking Australians to consider sport in their giving profile as we know we can’t rely on government funding alone.”  

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