By Liam Morgan |
Almost a year ago to the day, a new advocacy group for athletes burst onto the scene with promises to give competitors across sport an enhanced voice and to repair the “disconnect” between them and governing bodies.
Since then, Global Athlete has appeared publicly only to criticize every move made by pretty much every organization in the Olympic Movement and beyond.
A statement from the group would appear almost immediately after the likes of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) made a decision it did not agree with.
In the background, director general Rob Koehler and British Olympic cyclist Callum Skinner had been working on what they called a “listening exercise”, essentially a survey of athletes on a range of topics which affect them most.
The results of the survey, published this week, are not surprising.
Athletes want more money, representation and a greater say in the decision-making process in sport.
But some of the finer details, sprinkled in the responses to specific questions raised by Global Athlete, paint a worrying picture for competitors from grassroots level to the Olympic Games.
Fifty-eight percent of the 498 athletes who replied to the survey, spanning 48 countries and 56 sports, said they did not feel financially stable.
Many of the reasons why, expressed by athletes in their unedited responses, are telling.
One said sport leaves athletes with a “net loss” as a result of having no assistance with travel and accommodation, as well as team, competition and entrance fees.
Another highlighted how their paycheck “depends on how I perform at a major Championships once every two to four years”.
“If I do not perform well in one moment I cannot financially support myself,” the response read.
Others had even more fundamental issues, with one claiming they had to be supported by their parents as their sport “provides no money for me”.
One simply put “administrators get money but athletes don’t”, a point which is difficult to argue with.
How can it be fair that officials, collect per diems for doing very little while a small number of athletes have to crowdfund to achieve their Olympic dream?
Granted, there are some representatives who do earn their keep, but the disparity between the two is stark nonetheless.
The responses tie into a wider belief from some athletes that they should be allowed to control their marketing rights at the Olympic and Paralympic Games to increase the amount of money they can earn from their respective sports.
A decision in Germany last year, which significantly scaled back the powers of the IOC’s much-lamented Rule 40, has opened a can of proverbial worms and led to athletes across numerous countries calling for their own National Olympic Committees to follow suit.
According to the survey, a majority of athletes surveyed believe they should have the “right to build and sell their own brands” at sports events at all levels, including the Olympics and Paralympics.
Four out of the five respondents either agreed or strongly agreed that they should be allowed to control their marketing rights at the Games, a luxury which they are not currently afforded under Rule 40.
The IOC vigorously defends Rule 40, claiming it is designed to protect its TOP marketing program which indirectly benefits athletes through revenue redistribution.
But it was not surprising to see several responses from athletes which called for Rule 40 to be abolished altogether.
Others believe in its principal but feel it needs a radical overhaul, while there are athletes who take the IOC’s stance on an issue that shows no sign of going away.
A more extreme viewpoint was that athletes should be paid to attend events such as the Olympics and Paralympics.
A total of 57 percent and 51 percent of respondents said the IOC and the IPC, respectively, should offer remuneration to competitors.
Just over a quarter of respondents said athletes should not be paid, however, demonstrating how such an opinion is not shared by everyone.
When it comes to speaking out – which remains culturally unacceptable in dozens of countries, including those who regularly enjoy Olympic and Paralympic success – 16 per cent strongly agreed that they had the freedom to express their opinion without the fear of retribution.
The figure was the same for those who strongly disagreed with the statement.
Athlete representation was another topic explored in the survey, but the responses were largely as expected.
Given the calls for a greater say in the backroom and boardroom decisions which have a direct impact on them, it was somewhat surprising to see 54 per cent of athletes say they already have a “moderate” level of representation.
But 82 percent said they should have a “high” level of representation, while 87 percent answered yes when asked if they believe athletes should have at least 50 percent of the voting within sporting organisations when rules that affect them are being developed.
The trouble with the subject is finding a unified, united voice among athletes is neither easy nor essential – divergent views are the pillar of democracy after all – and there has been little progress since the volume of calls from competitors for increased representation began to grow.
A survey was not required to find out there is a “need for collective independent athlete representation”, which is what groups including Global Athlete have lobbied for without any clear idea of how that should be achieved.
A process to give athletes exactly that within WADA has hit several stumbling blocks, providing a perfect example of how getting enhanced representation is far easier said than done.
More generally, a worrying seven percent of respondents – around 34 athletes – said they had suffered some form of sexual abuse, while 47 percent had been subjected to verbal abuse during their careers.
Unfair team selection and the fear of retribution for speaking out against the establishments were highlighted among the other main concerns, along with classification for Para athletes.
What the survey, unquestionably the most important piece of work done by Global Athlete in its short history so far, showed is that plenty of athletes have legitimate concerns, ranging from their income to a lack of proper help when it comes to mental health, post-career transitions and ongoing medical care.
Of course, the survey was not all negative, but it is up to sport to ensure they are listened to, one way or the other.
Republished with permission from insidethegames.biz.