No one should be worse off for playing AFL football, but that’s the reality for some and especially those who paved the way for the stars of now.
Many played in a semi-professional era, where the financial rewards weren’t there, player welfare was minimal and the medical care wasn’t as advanced, but the game was no less brutal.
Through my role at the AFL Players’ Association, managing the Alumni program, I’m in contact with past players on a daily basis who are struggling later in life because of the sacrifice they made for ‘the jumper’.
In fact, research tells us that 75 percent of past players report suffering a serious injury in their career, 70 percent incur ongoing medical costs associated with a football injury and 63 percent require surgery post career. Most of these injuries occur to the shoulders and knees.
We also know that AFL footballers are not immune to the issues that plague society, whether that be financial stress, mental illness, drug and/or alcohol abuse or addiction.
AFL footballers commit to this journey knowing what awaits them in later life, but in the absence of workers’ compensation it’s incumbent on the industry to help past players who are suffering because of the impact of their career.
The duty to look after the forefathers of our game has long been recognised by modern footballers and through the last CBA we were able to establish programs to help those who need it.
A portion of the game’s revenue was directed into the Players Trust — a hardship fund to help those who fell on hard times and needed assistance to cover medical expenses or access rehabilitation services.
Unfortunately, the funding didn’t allow us to help everyone despite the number of past players needing treatment for degenerative injuries stemming from their football careers.
Even those with private health insurance can be up to $5000 out of pocket following a knee or hip replacement, but they don’t qualify for hardship funding because they are not considered to be in financial hardship
It therefore became a priority for the players to create a Lifetime Health Care program from this CBA to provide coverage for every past player, regardless of their financial status.
Under this program past player members will now be eligible for financial assistance towards joint-related operations or dental procedures, once their club’s responsibility expires at 18 months’ post career.
Those struggling financially can still apply for hardship funding and players that have been on a AFL list in recent years will also have a Player Retirement Scheme that they can access 12 months after leaving the game.
Also under the new CBA, is an increase of 5.6 percent for every year of service to the Player Retirement Scheme contributions from 2017, providing payments ranging from 10,000 for a first-year player through to $20,000 for a 10-year plus.
Those who suffer a career-ending injury will benefit from a broader and less arbitrary compensation system that better captures injuries such as concussion.
Through the AFLPA Alumni program we will also continue to support past players in the following ways:
- Concussion research and support
- Access to AFLPA Psychologist Network
- Bulk billing GP consultations through the AFL Doctors Association
- Hospital excess reimbursements
- Career transition support
- Education and training grants (for those in the first three years of retirement)
- Alumni member social events
It’s a priority for the industry to ensure that AFL football remains the first-class sport of choice for all Australians and supporting past players is a big part of this.
The average career is less than six years, but a bad injury can last a lifetime.