The economic challenges and sacrifices of being an Irish athlete on the world stage

Jack Woolley is Ireland’s first ever Taekwondo Olympian at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. The 23-year-old Dubliner has been practicing kickboxing since he was six.

Olympia Jack Woolley

A full-time professional athlete, Woolley is well aware of the financial challenges that this lifestyle and career presents. “When I was a kid, it was very difficult for my parents to fund taekwondo,” Woolley said. “Even traveling [to competitions] Being 12 is expensive. At the age of 13 and 14, I started two companies to finance the cost of participating in the competition. One business involves buying chickens and selling their eggs to community residents. When I was 15, I used communion money to help me participate in the World Taekwondo competition in China. “

Woolley has received funding from the Irish Olympic Federation and Sport Ireland to prepare for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and the upcoming 2024 Paris Olympics, which he hopes to qualify for. Athletes generally must achieve a certain level of achievement in their field to receive funding. When asked if he would have been able to compete in the Olympics without the funding, he said “certainly not”.

“With funding, athletes can focus primarily on training and not have to worry about finances,” Woolley said. “I also get a lot of help from my club. If you want something hard enough, the money won’t get in your way. There are so many different ways to raise money.”

To become a professional athlete requires enormous personal sacrifice. “You can’t go out on the weekends because of training — and you can’t spend money because you’re saving for travel to race,” Woolley said.

International canoeist Jenny Egan

Jenny Egan is an international sprint and marathon kayaker from Lucan, Dublin. She is currently training for the World Canoe Dash competition, which starts at the end of May.

Egan is a licensed athlete with Sport Ireland – which means she receives financial support from the organisation for training and competition. “I always budget for the coming year and use my funds wisely,” Egan said. “I also have to keep hitting certain goals in order to get funding. For athletes who are just starting out in sports, I think their parents are their main source of funding until they reach a certain level and become professional athletes or play amateur sports athletes.”

Egan said family support “is the most critical part of being a successful athlete” because of the long periods of time away from home for training and other related work. Your financial ability as a professional athlete often depends on the amount of money you have. “Thankfully, I’m currently supported by Canoe Ireland and Sport Ireland, which allows me to focus on my sporting career,” Egan said.

Sponsorship also helps. “I’ve been lucky enough to get more sponsorship deals over the last few years,” Egan said.

However, the lack of a steady income can create enormous financial challenges for athletes. “We don’t have the same options for getting loans and mortgages because our jobs are not completely safe [as most others] — that can be challenging,” Egan said.

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