PAUL MARSH –
My team at the AFL Players’ Association was presenting to one of the AFLW teams recently when one of the players told us “we would be stuffed without you guys”.
It was one of those moments of clarity when you realise that what you do genuinely makes a difference to the lives of many, and reinforces how important it is that those working for Australia’s eight player associations keep fighting hard for the athletes of this country.
I have been working in the athlete association movement since 2001. I had 13 great years at the Australian Cricketers’ Association and now three equally rewarding years at the AFL Players’ Association.
The role of player associations has evolved incredibly in this time. Whilst our traditional role of negotiation and advocacy remains at the forefront, we also play a leading hand in helping our members overcome the many other challenges presented by the modern sporting landscape.
We now provide opportunities for our members to develop their non-athletic identity, support their wellbeing, manage retirement and superannuation schemes, facilitate social leadership within the community and look after our ever-growing population of past players.
One of the most significant and positive changes has been the representation of female athletes. Player associations have played a significant role in the improved professionalism, minimum standards and wages of female cricketers, footballers and netballers in recent times.
Each of the player associations in Australia are now sophisticated businesses, run by passionate people who want what is best for both the game and its players. The contribution each of these bodies has made to their members and their sports is both positive and profound.
Minimum medical standards, concussion protocol, injury payments, hardship support for past players, mandatory rest periods, football boots and car parking are all basic employment entitlements that player associations have fought to introduce.
So why is it that player associations are so often seen in a negative light?
Is it because we have a voice on issues relating to our players that may be different to those running the sports?
Is it because we negotiate hard for better terms and conditions for our players?
Is it because we hold sports and clubs accountable for actions and decisions affecting our players?
In reality, it is a combination of each of these. Those running the sports and clubs like to have ultimate power and control and in most cases the only body with a view that challenges them is the players’ association.
It has long bemused me that we cop a bad rap for having the audacity to simply represent the interests of our players. The reality is that our sports and players would be far worse off if we didn’t exist.
I can say with certainty that our sports would be less safe, the wellbeing of our players would be compromised, our non-marquee athletes (especially female athletes) would continue to be marginalised, and the benefits that come from players and governing bodies working together to grow the sports wouldn’t be achieved.
The year 2017 has been huge for our nation’s athletes because of the work the player associations have done on their behalf.
New collective bargaining agreements have been finalised in AFL, cricket, rugby league, soccer, basketball and netball. The principle of partnership between the sports and their athletes has been enshrined in these agreements and this should bring about a period of stability and, if these partnerships are managed effectively, growth for each of these sports.
It is my strong view that there has never been a more important time for the sports and player associations in this country to work together. Sport is being challenged by some non-traditional forms of entertainment and the struggles of some historically successful sports around the world is proof that past success does not guarantee future prosperity.
Players and their associations don’t want to run their sports. This is not our job. We do, however, want to have our voice heard and respected on issues that affect us. The athletes of this country, who bring Australians so much joy, deserve nothing less.