Why am I not getting paid more for this?

You train and compete pretty much full time. You may even have obtained a label that equates to this level of dedication, such as “elite” or “professional”. Sport is not just an important part of your life – it has become a source of income, in the form of prize monies, sponsorships and/or salaries.

Many athletes dream about reaching the big leagues, turning pro, and doing what they love “for a living”. And yet, now that you’ve achieved this goal, the reimbursement may seem paltry at times. You are putting in the big hours and laying down some good results, but the financial rewards don’t seem to match the investment. After all, if you’ve come this far, isn’t it time for someone to show you the money?

Speak to non-athletes about paid athletes and you’ll likely get a variety of opinions. Some imply that anything before this level is simply a prelude to it; necessary, but less prestigious or desirable. The path to becoming pro is a test of mettle, to see who is worthy enough and to weed out those that aren’t. Those who survive the challenges and prevail are the ones who should reap the (financial) rewards.

Others claim that the pros are the ones that everyone wants to watch. They create a demand for their entertainment value, inspirational qualities, or both. There is a “market” for this, which then creates the conditions for paying athletes to produce the “product” i.e. sporting performances that entertain and/or inspire.

Is having someone pay you therefore a sign of your worth as an athlete? And who decides that worth? To help answer these (highly individual) questions, we need to consider a few angles.

Who is getting their money’s worth?

In today’s sporting “markets”, there is almost a direct correlation between an athlete’s performances and how much they get paid. That means that there is a somewhat unidimensional view of what an athlete is worth. Better results = more money. In some cases, an athlete getting more “exposure” – that is, for a sponsor, team or other (usually commercial) purpose – is also reimbursed more generously. But of course, the members of our Society know that an athlete is worth more than just their results or publicity.

Let us hypothesize that you – a professional – having arguably dedicated more of your life to sport than most, would logically have the most refined characteristics of an athlete. Having achieved a level of proficiency through dedicated training and competition likely means that you have done your best to challenge other athletes along the way. This is fundamental to our Society, and the essence of Postulate 6. This also likely means that you have been the victor in many of those challenges, which is a necessity in our Society according to Postulate 5. If you have done this on an even playing field, through proper preparation, training and tactics, and without diminishing your fellow competitors or this sport itself (Postulates 3, 4 and 7, respectively) then you have served our Society – and yourself – in an exemplary fashion. You, the professional, should therefore represent the best of sport: not just in terms of performance, but what an athlete – a member of our Society – stands for.

So, if you do embody the values and essence of the Sporting Society to the fullest, should you be reimbursed more generously? Well, many of us have seen examples of just the opposite. Athletes who seem to have neglected or even actively worked against the postulates’ principles, and gained (at least financial) success at the (often non-financial) expense of their fellow athletes. This would suggest that there is in some cases a discordance between way payers of athletes view our Society’s members, and how they might view themselves.

This conflict might arise due to something we’ve seen in other situations as well: a different system or set of values and rules is inserted into sport. Occasional, publicly available prize money aside, getting a regular income from sport means you are employed. To do work. And that means we now have to accept things like contracts, mandatory tasks, work superiors, and the expectations of boards and other interested groups (who may not be athletes themselves) while we do sport. These things rarely adhere to the same principles as our Society. For example: if it’s your performances that determine how you are rewarded, what about your challengers? In our Society, we know it’s because of them that you are receiving those rewards. Should there be a salary scale based on your challengers’ level of dedication? Such differences in perspectives can be hard to reconcile.

A lifestyle of your own making

So does being an “amateur” make it easier to stay true to sport and our Society? Not by any means – being a full-time athlete may allow you even more time to contribute to our Society. But as a professional, you have the additional burden of considering how make that contribution while navigating the conditions of non-sporting societies. This burden is often made abundantly clear in the following dilemma: how can we align the desire to embody sport with the need to provide for ourselves (and possibly our dependents)? Postulate 5 doesn’t say anything about it being essential to provide specific rewards to the victor of a given contest. It is simply the crowning of the victor that is imperative. So when you think about financially providing for yourself (or others), you’re already in the other societies’ values and principles. You’ll have to find a way to manage those two things separately, and if a conflict between the two arises, you might have to choose. Prepare yourself for this situation and consider your potential actions.

In the end, you may find yourself asking the question: how important is it for me to make a living as an athlete? A better question might be: do you think the answer to that question is in your paycheque?

Live as an athlete, and you’ll always be making a living out of it.