Are top level athletes exploited?

Ivan Waddington

Original Language

Cite this article

Waddington, I. (2004). Are top level athletes exploited?. Apunts. Educación Física y Deportes, 78, 26-32.



This paper asks: what are the health risks associated with elite sport? Are they higher than they need to be? Are those who have a moral and/or legal responsibility for athletes’ health taking all reasonable steps to safeguard the health of athletes? Numerous studies in several countries have shown that an important aspect of sporting culture at the elite or professional level involves a ‘culture of risk’, which normalizes pain, injuries, and ‘playing hurt’. Elite athletes take – and are expected to take – serious risks with their health. This paper draws on a study of English professional football which found that players are expected to continue to play, even when injured and in pain, whenever it is possible to do so. Players who are unable to play because of injury may be seen as being of little use to the club and may be stigmatised, ignored or otherwise ostracized. Injured players may be subject to pressures to return to play before they have fully recovered from injury. Information about the nature and extent of their injuries may be deliberately withheld from players and the rules governing medical confidentiality are frequently broken in football clubs. It is concluded that many professional football clubs in England are not taking appropriate measures to meet the ‘duty of care’ which they have, in both a legal and a moral sense, to the players in their employment.

Keywords: Exploitation, Health, Injuries, Lesiones, Top Level Sport.

ISSN: 1577-4015

Published: October 01, 2004