Swarali Patil is a PhD candidate in Sport Management and Leadership at Western University. She has presented her work at prestigious international conferences, such as the North American Society for Sport Management (NASSM), Sport Management Association of Australia and New Zealand (SMAANZ), the European Association of Sport Management (EASM), and the Association for Research on Nonprofit Organizations and Voluntary Action (ARNOVA).

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Financial wellbeing is invaluable for physical and mental health. According to 2019 data from Statistics Canada, a considerable portion of Canadians (41%) say they sought advice on a specific subject area or financial product at some point during the past 12 months—most commonly about general financial planning (24%). However, for many sectors of the population, it can be a challenge to access this kind of information. PhD candidate Swarali Patil suspects that it can be extra challenging for athletes to prioritize financial literacy while also managing intense training schedules, not to mention jobs and social and family commitments. She’s especially interested in assessing the financial wellbeing of women athletes in Canada. Her E-Alliance-funded project (in collaboration with Prof. Alison Doherty) began earlier this year and explores the financial wellbeing of women athletes on national teams.

Financial wellbeing is defined as “the extent to which you can comfortably meet all of your current financial commitments and needs, feeling financially secure, while also having the financial resilience to continue doing so in the future. But it is not only about income. It is also about having control over your finances, being able to absorb a financial setback, being on track to meet your financial goals, and—perhaps most of all—having the financial freedom to make choices that allow you to enjoy life.”

Better financial wellbeing is associated with less stress and greater mental and physical health, making it a vital component that contributes to overall, holistic health for all populations, including athletes.

Patil says that many of us may not understand the financial vulnerability of high-performance athletes, especially those who are in elite competition, for example those in the Olympic and Paralympic Games. Since, in general, women athletes receive less in pay and sponsorship dollars in almost every sport, their financial health is even more at risk.

“Many people think that because an athlete is on TV and in the spotlight, that must mean that they are millionaires,” says Patil. “A lot of them are actually making very little money. In fact, many athletes lose money getting ready for big events like the Games, training, trying to prepare, buying the equipment.”

This summer, Patil and her research team launched their investigation, to get feedback directly from women and men who are past and current national team athletes.  AthletesCAN, the collective voice of national team athletes in Canada, promoted the survey on their social media accounts and through their digital e-newsletters. E-Alliance, Commonwealth Sport Canada and CSC Atlantic also helped promote the survey.

The online survey took about 30 minutes to complete. Questions explored several topics, including general knowledge related to financial literacy and overall understanding of banking products and services. It also asked where athletes get their financial information and whether they felt they had enough savings to weather unexpected challenges. Patil says the COVID-19 pandemic exemplifies the kinds of unforeseen events that could derail an athlete’s path to financial wellbeing.

The simple act of filling out the survey and reflecting on the questions may help these athletes consider important issues and actions related to financial wellbeing, according to the research team. “The process could prompt them to look at some of their behaviours and perhaps change their habits for the better,” Patil explains.

The team is now working to analyze data from 650 survey participants. They will use the findings to assess where the financial wellbeing of Canadian women national athletes stands in comparison to their male counterparts and Canadian women in general. As they comb through the findings, they will also consider how socioeconomic factors and demographics influence financial decisions and status. Patil says this research could help the academic community, coaches and other leaders and decision-makers to get a more complete picture of the realities and challenges facing women athletes. This could prompt organizations to better support athletes in several ways, including providing financial-related educational tools and resources as part of overall athlete development.

“The findings could be applied to inform so many future decisions about how we help to develop and support women athletes,” says Patil. “In the longer term, I hope it will contribute to making the lives of women athletes more well-rounded and decrease financial-related stresses and worry.”