It’s a little known fact that Australian physiotherapists, doctors and massage therapists at the Commonwealth Games and Olympic Games are not paid to look after our athletes.  Even though the sports administrators get paid, and the athletes are professional and earn millions of dollars in endorsements, the selected health professionals are expected to perform their services as unpaid volunteers and do it for the kudos and the uniform. Now where’s the Olympic spirit in that?

These sporting organisations want their cake and to eat it to.  They want the services of the very best health professionals in the country only selecting the best of the best but they refuse to pay for their services?

This was acceptable in the ’60s and ’70s when sport was amateur, but in this day and age this inequality is totally unacceptable and needs to change to ensure we continue to foster the education and development of highly qualified and trained sports physiotherapists and health professionals.

The Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) spent $14.6 million to send our Olympic team to Beijing for the Olympics in 2008.  And the profits earned by the AOC each Olympics would far exceed these costs or else obviously the AOC would go out of business.

I am only speculating, but the dollar value of winning gold medals at Olympic Games and Commonwealth Games has to be in the order of $1 million-$2 million of extra revenue from TV audiences and future earnings from the sale of TV rights.  If 50 health professionals are paid for four weeks at $1000 a week, it is an investment of only $200,000, which would only be a 1.4% increase on the 2008 expenses.  This would ensure our best Olympic Games and Commonwealth Games athletes have the best possible medical care, which maintains them in the best possible shape, maximising their chances of winning medals.

The top health professionals won’t travel to any more than one to two Games as the trade-off is too great between the kudos and reputation of representing your country at these major events, but the inability to cover their mortgages, business expenses and family responsibilities as they are unpaid for 3-4 weeks at the Olympic Games and Commonwealth Games.

As the old saying goes, “You pay peanuts, and you will get monkeys”, so unless these massive organisations (Australian Olympic Committee and Commonwealth Games Association) start paying our health professionals, they will fail to attract the best possible personnel to attend.  The obvious consequences are that our athletes won’t receive the best possible care and potentially will impact on their performances and ultimately their ability to compete at the international level and win medals.

Mark Alexander is a lecturer at La Trobe University and manages the postgraduate master of sports physiotherapy program.  He is a former Olympic and Commonwealth Games physiotherapist covering the 2004 Athens and 2008 Beijing Olympics and 2002 Manchester and 2006 Melbourne Commonwealth Games with the Australian triathlon teams.

Peter Fray

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