The global sports industry is worth billions: players and athletes are not getting their fair share

On the eve of the Beijing Olympics, one of the biggest unpaid sporting events on the planet, a new report released today by the World Association of Players shows that athletes and players continue to be denied a fair share of the wealth they generate and are excluded from the decision-making board.

The World Player Report, the economics of international sports governing bodies, analyzes the most recent financial information from major sporting bodies and compares it to athlete earnings.

The report shows that despite the anticipated financial impacts of COVID-19, the multi-billion dollar global sports industry remains resilient. The sacrifices made by players during the pandemic, including adhering to rigorous protocols and escalating playing requirements, have enabled the world’s leading sports organizations to generate revenue that puts them among the world’s leading companies while holding hundreds of millions dollars in reserve. For example, in 2020, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) still generated $621 million (USD) in revenue, despite the postponement of the Tokyo Olympics.

Meanwhile, research by World Players affiliates, including FIFPRO (here and here) and EU Athletes, shows that players have been hardest hit by the crisis, with many cases of termination. contracts and cuts to essential services such as player development and welfare support at a time when it was needed most.

The prioritization of the commercial interests of major sports organizations above players is particularly evident when it comes to mega sporting events. Players have no say in where these tournaments are held and under what conditions.

As for the Olympics, the IOC has generated approximately $5.65 billion (USD) from the Rio and PyeongChang Olympics, but actively limits the earning potential of athletes through the “Rule 40” and various other means.

Matthew Graham, Director of Legal and Player Relations for the World Players Association, said:

“The Olympic Games are the economic engine of the IOC and are fueled by a global unpaid workforce, with the nearly 3,000 athletes competing not directly sharing any of the income they generate. struggling to make ends meet and making incredible sacrifices for their sport and their country, but receiving incredibly limited support.

The report also highlights that even when some prize money is shared with players, such as in football and cricket, it represents a very small share of overall income, with the inequality faced by athletes being exacerbated by widening inequalities. between the sexes.

To address these long-standing challenges, the world’s major sports companies must recognize that athletes are the workforce and the product on which the immense wealth of the industry is based and ensure their economic rights are respected. This includes undertaking economic rights due diligence and ensuring full respect for players’ rights to organize and bargain collectively. Collective bargaining has proven to be a win-win for many sophisticated parts of the global sports industry, including major professional leagues, but is actively opposed by the IOC and elements of the Olympic Movement.

Finally, the report identifies several trends likely to shape the future direction of the industry, including the rise and influence of private equity, the exploitation of player data, and the increasing proliferation of ways to monetize the name, image and likeness of athletes, including through NFTs and other means. While these may hold enormous potential, lessons from the past must be learned, including that players are key to securing the future of the industry in the face of the economic and other challenges ahead.


The Global Players Association, part of UNI Global Union, is the exclusive global voice of organized players and athletes in professional sport. It brings together 85,000 players through more than 100 players’ associations in more than 60 countries. Its role is to ensure that the voice of organized actors is heard at the highest level in the decision-making of international sport.

For more information, please contact Leonie Guguen, Senior Communications Officer, UNI Global Union. Tel: +41 79 137 5436 or Email: [email protected]