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Aussie Strife Over Swimmers' Pay

Jul 10, 2012  - Craig Lord

Australian swimmers are stuck in a time warp when it comes to funding  substantial enough to keep them in the sport long-term, says former Olympic medallist Daniel Kowalski, head of the athlete's union Down Under.

A new pay deal, presented to swimmers as a fait accompli on the eve of the Olympic Games, according to the media in Australia today, placed a Aus$10,000 lump sum payment into the bank account of each Dolphin swimming to London 2012.

Kowalski says that is just not good enough given Swimming Australia's latest 3-year sponsorship deal and the fact that six months of negations with the federation resulted in swimmers being told what they will get, with no room for negotiation.

Kowalski claims that David Urquhart, President of the federation, had promised to secure the agreement of the Swimmers Association on any deal. The former world champion freestyler tells the media at home that there was no sign-off: swimmers were told what would happen a few hours before a public announcement.

There are many swimmers heading tom London 2012 for whom $10,000 would represent a healthy improvement in their lot. However, Australia has made a policy of aspiring up the ranks to the US, not down it to nations who have been less successful in the race pool.

Here's what's available for US swimmers.

"The majority of the swimmers on the Olympic team are going to have to try to support themselves on far less than minimum wage," Kowalski told the Brisbane Times. "Swimmers are grateful to have received a payment at the start of July, but for some that could be it. That may be all they get.

"As far as we're concerned the negotiations and discussions need to recommence because to treat a stakeholder in such a way is almost unheard of. The swimmers are frustrated and confused by what has taken place."

Urquhart declined to answer questions as papers went to bed in Australia pointing out that the 47 members of the Olympic team will receive a minimum of $10,000 from a pool of at least $750,000 drawn from the federation's commercial revenue.

For the likes of Stephanie Rice and James Magnussen, gold in London would bring a $35,000 bonus. Kowalski agrees that high achievement should reap the bigger reward but more needs to be done to keep swimmers in the sport longer term if Australia wishes to be competitive, he argues.

"For us, our most important thing right now is the swimmers' welfare and wellbeing leading into the Olympics," said Kowalski. He would take up the matter again when Olympic season was out of the way. "Our concern is that those swimmers will be left having to make a decision about whether or not they can afford to keep striving to make the Rio Olympics.

"These guys are getting paid in a lump sum twice a year and it's less than minimum wage  …  and for us that's simply not good enough … a lot of these kids can't perform or get to the level they are at if not for the support of their families."

Something the vast majority heading to London 2012 will be familiar with.