Yle sports journalists drilled down into the generous funding provided by the state to sports associations in Finland and found a highly structure-oriented sports development system that largely leaves athletes alone with their financial difficulties.
Since 2002, government support for sporting associations has increased by 64 percent, but Yle found that the financial support is spent primarily on the structures that maintain the governing sports bodies.
Journalists combed through a series of scorecards compiled by the competitive and elite sport research centre, KIHU, and looked at the growth of sporting associations’ personnel costs between 2005 and 2014. They found that back in 2005, all of the country’s sports bodies paid out a combined total of 19 million euros in salaries.
However by 2014, that figure had almost doubled to roughly 34 million, as staff numbers over the interval grew by 139 among all organisations. In 2014, the combined total of workers employed by local sporting bodies was 550. The average individual salary increased from about 39,000 euros annually to some 51,000 euros over the 11-year period.
Football and hockey the biggest beneficiaries
Leading the pack in terms of government subventions are the Football Association and the Ice Hockey Association, where annual personnel costs are in the region of 4 – 5 million euros. At the same time, turnover for these associations has risen to more than 15 million euros annually, allowing them to dip into their own coffers to pay salaries in addition to using state funding. For many smaller sporting organisations, government support plays a much more important role in allowing them to cover personnel expenses.
The Yle analysis is not the first to have drawn attention to the ballooning administrative and personnel costs among sporting organisations. In 2014, a number of associations called on then-Education and Culture Minister Paavo Arhinmäki to explain why their grants had been cut down.
At the time, Arhinmäki pointed to mushrooming salary expenses, particularly for the Golf, Athletics and Skiing Associations.
Big bucks for administrators
Additionally, a recent report by the sports-themed Urheilusanomat news service turned up a number of high-earning top brass in sports organisations, with annual paychecks of over 100,000 euros. For example head of the Equestrian Federation of Finland Fred Sundwall explained his annual pay packet of more than 150,000 euros to Yle sports journalists by pointing to corporate co-pay commissions and pension income from his previous job. According to Sundwall, his actual pay is in the region of 60,000 euros a year. A statement published on the Federation’s website indicates that the value of Sundwall’s job-related fringe benefits is 13,000 euros.
Apart from snowballing salary expenses, associations’ travel and accommodation costs have also increased by tens of millions of euros since 2005. In 2014, sports bodies forked out around 29 million euros on these items.
Athletes living below poverty line
Yle journalists found however, that while sports administrators enjoyed rising incomes, the country’s top athletes have not seen a similar improvement in their ciscumstances.
A separate survey of leading sports figures found that more than half said that they are struggling to make ends meet, often earning less than 1,200 euros a month. Moreover, many live below the poverty line - they can’t pay their bills and they fund basic living expenses like food from social assistance, or with the help of their parents.
According to the results of a survey of top athletes conducted by KIHU, many athletes described their financial situation as fragile.