Pay to play: No logic in AIS/HECS debt scheme

ATHLETES paying back their AIS scholarships under a HECS scheme; to many, it’s a necessity, but, to me, it’s a matter of definition.

I was asked this week by another journo mate what I thought of the idea.

He agreed “1,000,000” per cent with the arguments that they should pay once they earn over a certain threshold.

Yes, I’m sure the irony of a journo using any per centage figure greater than 100 is not lost on him, either.

If you have no idea about what he was/I am on about, then it’s like this:

The AIS awards about 700 tax-payer subsidised scholarships each year, which are valued at about $50,000 each. There are calls going around that, if an athlete begins earning over a certain amount, then they should begin paying off the scholarship in the same manner that university graduates repay their HECS debt.

Ok, let’s just put aside the debate on whether or not tax-payer dollars should be subsidising sport at all, because, otherwise, this blog could go on forever.

The issue of this blog is whether or not those scholarships should be repaid.

The opinions that demand athletes repay their scholarships seem to get caught up comparing AIS scholarships to university degrees, such as this one from Erica Cervini of The Age:

“If the government is going to charge students for education, then HECS is the fairest system. It’s also the fairest system for AIS graduates.”

Well, no, it’s not.

And athlete scholarships cannot be compared to university degrees because they’re not the same, at all.

Here’s why.

First, there’s the definition; a scholarship is awarded as a gift based on merit and is totally different to a loan. Guess what, students can be awarded study scholarships too. Want them to pay those back?

If you answered ‘yes’ to that, then what’s the point in having education scholarships in addition to regular HECS/HELP loans? There wouldn’t be any point, whatsoever.

Secondly, there’s the lack of practicality.

I have a university degree and I am a journalist.

I need to repay my HELP debt, because, if I so desire – and if I’m still alive – in 50 years time, I can still earn money as a journalist.

An athlete, no matter what the sport, will not have that power in 50 years time. That’s because their scholarship is not a qualification.

To demand athletes repay scholarships is to overlook that fact.

The earnings of top athletes reflect both their talent at their “job”, but, equally, the limited lifespan they have in their “jobs”.

Let’s use a working example.

Athlete X earns the average $250,000 a year and their career spans the average six years. Both of those figures are based on AFLPA numbers for AFL players.

That equates to $1,500,000 over the athlete’s career.

Worker Y earns the national average wage of $72,436, they start working at 22 (after graduating from university) and retire at the Age Pension age of 67.

That equates to $3,259,620 over the worker’s career.

To drive it home, Athlete Z earns the $60,000 threshold being talked about and, lets be generous and say they manage to hang around for 10 years.

Athlete Z just earned $600,000 and had to repay $50,000 of that.

To me, that settles it.

Athlete scholarships are not student loans; by definition, a scholarship is a freebie.

Does the gifted engineer student have to pay back the university scholarship they’re awarded?

No, because it’s not a loan, it’s a scholarship.

If we want to start handing out athlete loans, then that’s fine and the athlete enters that contract with the understanding that they will have to pay the money back.

But to demand athletes repay scholarships, when they’re likely to earn a third of what the rest of the country does over the course of their careers, is to fly in the face of logic.

Let the kids play and not have to worry about pay.

What do you think about the issue of AIS athletes having to repay their HECS/HELP debts? Do you disagree with this blog? Let us know by leaving a comment below.

7 thoughts on “Pay to play: No logic in AIS/HECS debt scheme

  1. A scholarship is awarded to someone who excels in there field either sport or whatever they are good at. That pays there education and maybe there rent they still need food and all the other life’s luxuries so they have to pay for them. A sportsman who is given cash can spend it how ever they like . Thorpe has just had his 100k cancelled as they haven’t heard from him not a bad life if you ask me. Some one who has a sports scholarship still has to study so after they stop playing sport they have something to do not just blame everyone else’s they invested there millions wrong and want more money. I think they should be educated at the same time not just left to do as they please as the news on some of our athletes hasn’t been the best lately

    • I wholeheartedly agree with you that measures should be taken to prepare athletes for life after their careers, which is a primary focus of any sporting institution nowadays.

      It wasn’t always like that and, in the past, we’ve celebrated athletes during their careers and then acted like they never existed after them.

      Thankfully, times have changed.

      Thanks for taking the time to read and drop a comment, mate. Have a good one.


  2. Just regarding the maths used for an athletes career earnings – what about earnings made after their active sports career but as a result of the active sports career? Things like advertisements… public speaking… sports commentating… even glorified manager roles for companies that have an AFL crazy CEO etc :p

    But I agree that as they are labelled as scholarships, they shouldn’t be paid back.

    As to whether the scholarships should actually exist when those funds could go to budding scientists etc is another story 😉

    • Cheers for taking an interest Tommy and appreciate your comment, as it’s a point a lot of people frequently raise.

      If you actually consider the athletes who are capable of making a living out of their sporting achievements post-career, I think you’ll find that is a drastic minority.

      The AIS has it’s AFL program, but predominantly, the national institute supports Olympic sports programs, such as hockey, swimming and athletics.

      Let’s take the example of one of our greatest ever sportsmen, hockey’s Jamie Dwyer. He’s been named World Player of the Year a remarkable six times, including his junior efforts. He scored the gold medal-winning goal in Athens to record Australia’s only ever Olympic title in men’s hockey and has a successful career outside Australia, playing professionally in Europe.

      Now, many people, unfortunately, might know the name, but they wouldn’t know who he was or what he had achieved. He is one of our most accomplished Olympic athletes and even his earning capacity post-career is minimal.

      Sure, there’s the Thorpes of the swimming world who rake in sponsorship dollars. But those guys are a rarity and even our current tyro, James Magnussen, doesn’t have anywhere near the marquee namesake of Thorpe.

      The ones that rake it in most post-career are the AFL players. But even considering the ratio there, they are definitely the minority. Think about it; FoxFooty and Channel Seven have the rights, so if you include maybe a team of 10 ex-players that each broadcaster employs, then that’s only 20 former players from a potential pool of thousands.

      And as for “glorified manager roles”, I think you’ll find that most of those players have completed business degrees or – such as in the case of Matthew Pavlich – an MBA and, while their reputation helped open some doors, their qualifications got them the job.

      However, it’s important to note that those educations are funded by the AFL, not by the AIS. So it’s a completely separate cash flow.

      So, while there certainly are some athletes who can make money post-career from what they’ve achieved, I think you’ll find those from the Olympic sports – the AIS’s primary focus – would struggle and would not be able to survive off the income it brought in.

      An Olympics only comes around every four years, after all. Hard to make a living off a four-yearly pay cheque.

  3. I’m a member of the AIS and we basically receive the same amount as the doll, but are pretty much unable to work more than 10-15 hours a week. And thats if we’re lucky enough to find an employer willing to employ us in 4 hour shifts in between training and uni with the possibility of maybe or maybe not being away every 3 or so months for 3-4 weeks at a time… I get very very minimal from sponsorships, and if I do, it’s more a free water bottle rather than cash. And we also only get AIS funding 39 weeks a year so for 3 months we still have to train without receiving anything. We appreciate the funding we get, and know we’re lucky to receive anything, but as you state in your article, just like the academic scholarships universities and schools offer all over the country, it is a SCHOLARSHIP that we earnt; not a loan that we received.We get a lot of pride representing our country, but when people misunderstand the system and think we’re free loaders it is really frustrating.

    It’s nice to read an article that actually thinks about the system logically for once. Good job and thank you!

    • G’day Athlete X,
      I love the pseudonym, too. Nice job.

      I completely understand. My mum was a 400m hurdler, who represented Australia, so I have an understanding of how difficult it can be to juggle commitments.

      I also think the point you raised about employment is such a crucial one. It’s easy to claim you guys have 15 hours free a week to work. But how realistic is it to actually find an employer – outside waiting tables or grinding coffee – who will allow you to work around your training times? I would argue that it’s a very difficult task to find someone that understanding.

      Then, if athletes are studying at the same time … well, geez, that doesn’t leave much time to work, does it!

      And, unless an athlete wants to go into hospitality post career, then waiting tables and grinding coffee simply sets athletes up for hardship in life after sport. Basically, you guys have to start from scratch once you’re done.

      I certainly appreciate you taking the time to share your side of the story. I often think all of us are guilty in suffering from “Grass is Greener” Syndrome … let’s call it GGS … and throw stones without thinking issues all the way through.

      Thanks so much, have a good one.

  4. I think the biggest thing is when you have players who go on to earn phenomenal amounts of money (for example, if they play in the EPL). I think what could be really good is rather than pay anything particular back, they should be obliged (and some do), to invest some of their money in sporting infrastructure in Australia. That would be a bigger boost to the sporting world.

    The reality though is that most of the athletes training at the AIS are not going to make anywhere near any cutoff amount, and that’s why they need to train there in the first place. Rowers, gymnasts, etc are unlikely to earn big money from sponsorships or payments.

    The ones that would reach the cutoff amounts are probably only have going to have spent a year or two at the AIS in junior development programs anyway.

    For a job, doing tours is a good chance to fill in all those requirements, and of course a good way to improve and athlete’s public speaking and self promotion, though of course it is not suitable for everybody.

    I guess the biggest thing with running any sort of repayment program is that it would probably be quite a large effort to enforce it, on very few people, and in itself a waste of resources.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *