Gravy Train Going Off The Rails

All sports fans know that sport is big business, but suddenly the business of sport is proving to be one of the things that is strangling the life out of many.

As the administrators in a number of sports look to make money, many are losing sight of the bigger picture, which is that 90% of people who play sport do not do so at anywhere near the elite level. So why is so much emphasis being put on the elite sportsmen and women?

One reason is obvious, elite sportspeople are the ones who drive us to play as children and emulate what they have achieved. That being the case there has to be some balance.

Many will be surprised to hear that many of those elite sportsmen and women who are not in the high profile sports will tell you that they too are feeling the impact of the administrator’s drive to make money off the back of them.

In the past week this writer has spoken to three athletes who have all played at World cups or World Championships in their three different chosen sports, and all three – who for obvious reasons wished to remain anonymous – advised that they were having to fight for money that was owed to them from their sports administrator, had received lower funding now that the Government had given funding grants to the their game’s governing body, or were being asked to pay for things that had always been covered when playing at the highest level. This will no doubt be worrying for many fans around the country.

All without exception felt that money was being held back because the administrators were having to cover salaries and increased operational costs. One was tempted to hand back his scholarship, while another was considering retirement.

There is no doubt that these days sports administrators are being paid extremely good salaries. The CEOs of most of the top sports nationally in Australia demanding over $1million a year. At state level some sports are more generous than others with some CEO’s earning close to or around $200k a year. One state CEO enjoyed a $30k increase when his contract was renewed, despite massive upheaval in that particular sport, this increase alone was bigger than the prize money on offer to the best team in that sport!

The question is can sport afford such salaries amongst its administrators? Where is the money going to come from to support such salaries? In some cases this is abundantly clear, the 90% who are not involved in elite sport are the ones propping them up. Junior clubs are getting stung constantly, with parents expected to continue to shell out more and more money. Yet are they receiving improved coaching, games, and pitches? In most cases the answer is, ‘no.’

Many sports will tell you that they are looking to improve coaching standards, which is great news, but is this improvement coming free? No, the people have to pay once again. Sadly coaching is now becoming elitist in some sports. No longer are you getting the best people coaching. In the past coaches tended to be a man or woman passionate about the game, frequently an athlete whose career was curtailed by injury, or an athlete who did not quite make it to the top of their chosen sport. Yet frequently now these wonderful people cannot afford to pay the fees being asked of them. They cannot justify such a cost to their families, and so they are being lost to their sport. Ex players and athletes who may have no coaching communication skills but who have passed an exam and understand the theory take their place, yet they fail to inspire.

Last week one coach on receiving an award for his achievements in 2014 said in his acceptance speech that “you cannot teach any two athletes the same way, and if you do you are not a coach.” The reason he said was that each individual is different, each is motivated in different ways, each reacts to pressure differently, yet their physical capabilities may be the same. A good coach manages these things, and these are things that cannot be taught. These are things that many of the volunteer mums and dads, who gave up hours coaching young athletes gave, they did not learn these skills in a classroom, they either had them or life taught them. These were people who nurtured talent for the institute of sports to polish. Sadly in the push for money they are now being lost to sport, and in their place are people with the money to gain a qualification, with the aim of making more money.  Coaching at junior level should never be about money, and the day it is sport is in deep trouble.

The sporting landscape is shifting dramatically and money is a major factor. There has been a clear culture shift as one rugby club advised. No longer do players stay behind on a match day and share beers with their mates and the opposition; now they have a gatorade and head home. The same is true in other sports too, but in rugby that was a big part of the brotherhood of the game. The end result for this particular club is a drop in $20k in bar takings for the past season. Now they have to find a way to make up that revenue if they want to continue to pay their players and coaches the going rate as well as stay afloat.

Something has to give, and it would appear that the time when something does is not too far away. It will be a very sad day if clubs have to start to close their doors, as where will the next generation of elite athletes come from. The elite athletes are the ones who encourage children to take up sport, and if these athletes are forced to retire and walk away from their sports because they simply cannot afford to stay in it, the knock on effect will be huge.

Sadly it is not just one sport feeling the pinch, but many. As well as many of our elite athletes. The only way things will change is if the Board’s in charge of the governance of these sports act quickly and re-assess the management structures and the financial remuneration and structures within their sport. If they do not heed the warning signs it could be a case of the administrators strangling the life out of the sport they are meant to be giving life to.

Gravy Train Going Off The Rails
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