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Why sports stars get less support than other injured workers – and how we can fix it – Monash Lens

Inappropriate, unfair and in some cases potentially in violation of workers compensation laws. Such is the poor current insurance regime for Australia’s professional athletes, who receive less long-term injury support than other workers and less support than if they were playing in New Zealand.

That’s part of what I said to the current Senate Inquiry into Concussion and Repetitive Head Injuries in Sport as a researcher into occupational health and safety legislation in professional sport and as a former General Counsel and General Manager at the Victorian WorkCover Authority and WorkSafe Viktoria.

The AFL was in the spotlight following news of a class action lawsuit led by retired Geelong Premiership player Max Rooke on behalf of more than 60 former Australian Football League players. The law firm leading the class action lawsuit alleges Rooke sustained “permanent, life-altering injuries” from a concussion.

The lawsuit comes as the AFL prepares to follow the NRL and Rugby Australia as they appear before the Senate inquiry.

However, as I stressed in my submission to the inquiry, the issue of workplace safety and injury support goes far beyond Australian football rules.

Players are employees – not covered long enough

Last month, I told the Senate Inquiry that professional sports organizations are employers and their players are employees.

Under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, employer sports organizations have a legal obligation to do everything that is reasonably practicable to avoid injury to their employees.

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Because eliminating all injuries is not a realistic expectation, employers offer insurance to support injured players.

The first symptoms of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) only develop after years or decades, until then the affected players usually no longer play professionally and are no longer insured.


Read more: What does a concussion do to the brain?


Their employer-sponsored insurance usually expires either when their contract expires or shortly thereafter. As such, they do not adequately support the treatment of injuries that occur years after the athlete’s career has ended.

There are many stories of former AFL players and players in other leagues suffering from memory loss so severe that they can’t remember their performances and their clubs and leagues aren’t helping.

No workers’ compensation, unlike in New Zealand

Worse, exemptions from state and territory employer-funded worker compensation programs deny professional athletes the relapse protection afforded to other workers.

In the absence of workers’ compensation, the primary medical obligation shifts to Medicare, shifting it from employers and state governments to taxpayers and the federal government.

The exceptions were introduced in the 1970s when athletes were first being paid well and leagues and clubs were concerned about their financial ability to pay workers’ compensation premiums.

There were also perceptions that sport is not ‘normal’ work and that (part-time) athletes are not workers. The arguments are superfluous in a world where sport has been corporatized and commercialized.


Read more: Is the NRL legally liable for the long-term effects of concussions?


Even more confusing is that some of the exceptions to workers’ compensation are ineffective and in NSW and Tasmania do not exclude professional players whose contracts they use for activities other than sport, such as football. B. promotions.

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In the Northern Territory, players who earn more than 65% of average weekly income are not excluded. There, professional players are to be insured who derive a significant part of their livelihood from the sport – the opposite of the intention in other jurisdictions.

The exceptions are in stark contrast to New Zealand, where its accident compensation system makes no distinction between sports injuries and other injuries.

Sports organizations with branches in NSW, Tasmania and the Northern Territory which do not have workers’ compensation insurance for their players may be breaching their obligations.

This shouldn’t come as a complete surprise. Sports organizations have historically failed to meet their obligations as employers.

For many, the reality is even worse

In the hierarchy from elite sports to sports where professionals are part-time (including many women’s sports), insurance supply is shrinking.

There are deadlines for payments for lost income – the highest I’ve seen is 104 weeks. It has excesses. In order to pay for medical expenses, it is often necessary for the athlete to take out private health insurance. And while many sports pay gap fees out-of-pocket, that obligation usually lapses at or shortly after the contract ends.

The longest commitment I’ve seen after a contract has ended – and these contracts are usually not public – is 18 months.

That’s less than it takes for many traumatic brain injuries to become apparent, and those injuries last for life, well over 18 months after gaming.

Legal action is not the best solution

The rationale for the continued exclusion of professional players from workers’ compensation is based on the assumption that alternative accommodation is provided by employers and that it is reasonable.

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This is clearly not the case for long-term, long-term injuries resulting from concussions and repetitive head injuries. Expensive, time-consuming and unpredictable litigation of the kind that is going on now is a poor substitute for adequately compensating athletes for injuries sustained in their profession.

Insurance and compensation regimes for professional gamblers should not be less than those for other Australian workers. The starting point should be their inclusion in employee compensation systems.

The Senate inquiry offers an opportunity to construct a program tailored to the unique circumstances of professional sport – one no less generous than that applied to other Australian workers.


Read more: Concussion risks aren’t limited to the AFL. We must act urgently to ensure our children are safe too


This article originally appeared on The Conversation.

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