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Emily Seebohm reveals shockingly low pay for Aussie elite swim stars

by ZwemZa on January 16th, 2022

Crazy to think what elite swimmers live off. Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

When you think elite athletes, it’s easy to think living in the lap of luxury on millions of dollars a year, fancy mansions and the high life.

While there are some blessed with that life, four-time Olympian Emily Seebohm has revealed the cream of the crop in Australian swimming earn just $30,000 a year and are forced to supplement their pay through sponsorship, events and lesser known swimming events around the world.

Every four years the swim team holds much of Australia’s Olympic hopes on its shoulders. But Seebohm, a three-time Olympic gold medallist, revealed despite the pressure, swimmers can have a tough time making ends meet.

To put it in perspective, the Fairwork Ombudsman’s website states the minimum wage is “$20.33 per hour or $772.60 per 38 hour week (before tax)” which equates approximately $36,000 per year after tax.

Speaking on I’m a Celebrity … Get me Out of Here on Thursday night, former NRL star Beau Ryan asked if swimmers went to “random events” to get paid or if it was part of their contract or sponsorship requirements.

“It’s to get paid, money to survive,” Seebohm said. “Our swimming Australia contract, for the top one to eight is ($30,000).”

Ryan, who played 126 games over eight seasons in the NRL for the Wests Tigers and Cronulla Sharks, was taken aback.

Ryan himself broke into the NRL in 2007 on a $50,000 contract with the Wests Tigers. He then became a Footy Show funny man after his footy career and it has now led into other hosting gigs, including with Channel 10’s The Amazing Race.

Ryan revealed on Kyle and Jackie O’s radio show last year he was paid $800,000 to host The Amazing Race and his media career helped him build a reported $15 million fortune.

“Hang on. Time out. Say this again to me, please … Listen to this please,” Ryan said.

Seebohm continued: “So, our swimming contracts are done every year, and every year, you’ve got to re-try and make the top tier.

“One to eight is 30 — $30,000 for the year. Thirty is our biggest contract.”

It left Ryan in disbelief as the assumption is that our Olympic champions are on big bucks rather than scratching a living to survive.

“You just assume that our Olympic athletes, our national treasures, are on huge money,” he said.

“You just assume that. You assume they live in nice homes, drive fast cars and they’re on good money.”

Seebohm also said an Olympic gold at Tokyo was worth a $20,000 bonus.

At the most recent Games, the Australian Olympic Committee revealed it was offering an extra $20,000 for gold medallists, $15,000 for silver medallists and $10,000 for bronze medallists, assuming they didn’t retire after the Games.

Ryan was flabbergasted by bonuses as well.

“That shocked me. I knew they weren’t paid well but not at that level. That’s unbelievable,” he added.

Asked about whether sponsorships made life easier, Seebohm said it’s tough to get gigs when swimmers are competing against other athletes in our biggest sports who play every week.

“They’re hard to come by these days because there’s NRL, which is played weekly, which is way better and they can wear their sponsors whereas we can’t,” she added

“As swimmers, when we’re on the team, we can’t wear personal sponsors. People don’t want to sponsor us because the team have sponsors and we have to wear the team sponsors.”

And she said it makes it difficult to hold down a regular job to make ends meet as the contracts are offered each year and the best of the best have to train in order to stay at the top.

“You only get a contract every year, so every year, you’ve gotta remake the team,” she explained.

“So you’re only on the top for a year and then if you have an off year and you drop to not making the team or you drop to 16th, your funding immediately drops.

“I have to be on the top of my game every time I swim, otherwise I’m not going to make that money. Like, I can’t slack off at all. Ever.”

Seebohm explained the “only way we make money” was to travel the world and swim at smaller meets outside of the World Championships and Olympics.

Earlier in the week Seebohm explained on I’m a Celeb she believed “crying…is weakness”, having been savaged over crying when she won silver at the 2012 London Games.

But nine years later in Tokyo, Seebohm shared one of the best moments of the Olympics when after claiming bronze, gold medallist and fellow Aussie Kaylee McKeown called her onto the top step of the podium for the national anthem. There were even a few tears.

She said: “Before Tokyo I was 100 per cent, I can’t do this anymore to myself, I was so over being criticised and not good enough and whatever. And then go to Tokyo and it’s a different view. Coming back it felt like we were heroes. I don’t want to retire if this is how it’s going to be.”

Seebohm has been open on the show so far, coming clean on her eating disorder after a traumatic split from ex-boyfriend and fellow swim star Mitch Larkin.

Andrew McMurtry | News.com.au

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