Holly Bradshaw’s finance frustrations a reminder of how hard Covid has hit athletics incomes

Holly Bradshaw’s admission of her frustration at losing out on a potential five-figure sum due to Covid travel restrictions is a reminder of the harsh realities of life as an elite athlete and the economic impact the pandemic has had even on those hoping to fight for an Olympic medal.

Bradshaw, fourth at the last World Championships and fifth at the Olympics, is one of the best female pole vaulters in the world. But where only a select few global stars are fortunate to earn six or seven-figure sponsorship deals, international athletics is a vastly different world for most and Covid has hit athletes’ earning capacity hard.

Bradshaw, who says she is in the best shape of her life after going unbeaten in three preparation competitions ahead of these European Indoor Championships, had to pull out of five meetings this winter due to travel restrictions, losing the opportunity to win the World Indoor Tour title.

Every winner of an individual World Indoor Tour competition claimed $3,000 (£2,100), while the overall champion earned a $10,000 (£7,100) bonus, as well as automatic qualification for next year’s World Indoor Championships.

Bradshaw says she was “massively frustrated” to miss out on rare chances to earn significant prize money in athletics, especially given only two women have jumped higher than her this year.

“It’s been a hugely frustrating indoor season for me. I really wanted to go and win the World Indoor Tour,” she said. “I’ve lost out on £10,000 and the opportunity to get an automatic selection for the Worlds.

“At the time, I was massively frustrated. For five minutes, I thought: ‘This just seems so unfair’. But I just can’t be angry. It’s just the law. I’m sure a lot of people want to go on holiday right now.

“There was a lot of money at stake. But my philosophy is I don’t really do this for the money and my husband said to me: ‘You can earn money for the rest of your life but you can only win medals for the next couple of years, so focus on the bigger picture, which is the European Indoors, go win yourself a medal.’”

It is this kind of attitude that keeps athletics going. The best British athletes are fortunate to receive centralised funding to the tune of £28,000 in the highest tier and £15,000 on the next level down. Appearance fees are meagre for all bar the showstoppers and individual prize money rarely goes into five figures even at the top global meets.

Sponsorship from shoe and clothing companies tends to keep most athletes in business – one reason why World Athletics president Seb Coe is loath to put too strong curbs on shoe technology development – but there are no certainties there either.

Having finished 2018 ranked sixth in the world and continuing to improve after injuries, Bradshaw was unexpectedly dropped by Nike after eight years of support.

With many sponsorship deals scheduled to expire after the original Tokyo Olympics dates last summer, numerous athletes worldwide saw their income slashed at the end of 2020 and had to sign new contracts on reduced terms. That was in addition to a skeleton Diamond League circuit offering limited earning opportunities.

The same may yet happen again this summer, further limiting appearance fees and potential prize money.

With funding decisions in Britain based on performance at global events, medals at this weekend’s European Indoor Championships will count for little in the way of finances. Instead medals and glory take centre stage.

For Bradshaw, and everyone else competing in Torun, that is everything. Money troubles can wait, but in athletics at the moment they are very real.

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