The Struggles of UAE-Based Athletes Who Don’t Get Paid Like Messi

Adhil Afsal during his training session, Sharjah sports club, March 2021. Photo by Ahmed Alshurafa

Most athletes aren’t paid millions of dollars like star footballer Lionel Messi or tennis champion Roger Federer. 

In fact, most athletes barely make enough money from their sports activities and have to find other jobs to be able to survive and provide for their families. They also have a short professional life, as most of them have to retire in their early 30s — unlike in other careers where one can keep working and earning a living for decades.

“I started working as a gym instructor as athletics don’t allow me to make enough money in the UAE like in the US or the UK,” Dannish Walker-Khan, a British sprinter at Alnasr club, said in a phone interview. “Working in the gym helps me maintain my body as an athlete and most importantly pay for my expenses and my family’s expenses.” 

Other athletes study for a university degree to be able to get a job that will allow them to manage their sports career. “When I graduate from university this May, I will start to work in the real estate industry in Sharjah. It will allow me to focus on training as the working hours won’t be more than six hours a day,” Adhil Afsal, Alwasl long jump and high jump Indian athlete, said in an interview. 

When athletes succeed in building their brand image on social media, they often get approached by sports companies that offer them sponsorship opportunities. While these sponsorships aren’t normally the kind of payments that football stars get, they still help the athletes boost their earnings and even get free branded gear to use at competitions.

‘When I was approached by New Balance, I was very happy as it shows my hard work has paid off. They offered me free kits for when I train and compete, which helps me save money,” said Walker-Khan.

As these athletes may be distracted by their day jobs, coaches can help provide them guidance on how to remain fit throughout the season. Coaches can manage the schedule of the athletes and tell them when to take a break from work in order to focus on their sports training.

“I usually tell the seniors to try and take their holiday from work at the end of May because that’s when the biggest competitions in the UAE are,” Alwasl running team head coach Godwin Odinukaeze said in a phone interview.  

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Ahmed AlShurafa

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