Is it worth being a professional athlete for the money?


We associate the world of great sport with astronomical salaries and fame, popularity and adoration, which, by the way, take the salaries to the next galaxy.

This image is somewhat distorted in Poland by football. Football is the most popular sport in the whole of Europe and thus generates gigantic revenues. Clubs compete for the best players, and salaries rise as a result. Without a shadow of a doubt, it can therefore be said that it is worth it to be a footballer – even if you do not manage to achieve success comparable to Robert Lewandowski.

How much do footballers earn?

Just a few days ago, Gareth Bale was on the verge of becoming a record-breaker, earning €58 million a year just for playing in China. This figure did not include the Welshman’s other earnings, for example from sponsorship deals or appearances in adverts.

Robert Lewandowski, who is by all accounts a player of at least Gareth Bale’s stature, also has no right to complain: he earns €15 million a year just for playing for Bayern Munich (Cristiano Ronaldo earns €31 million at Juventus and Lionel Messi €40 million at Barcelona).

Also in the Polish league, footballers earned good money. Michał Pazdan at Legia earned around €400,000 a year. Of course, this is already a different scale, but still a good salary. However, there are two sides to a medal. EUR 5,000 a year – this is the salary, or rather stipend, that the youngest players of the weakest Ekstraklasa clubs can count on. In the backroom of the best Polish entertainment league, salaries are often symbolic, but players of the 1st League still get such salaries that allow most of them to “live off football”. However, it is becoming increasingly difficult to talk about specific amounts, as some clubs aspire to return to the Ekstraklasa and some are themselves surprised by their presence at this stage of the competition.

The world beyond football

Unfortunately, big money is disappearing outside football, and the determinant is the media coverage of the sport in question. Of course, Marcin Gortat, who is a player in the prestigious NBA, certainly has no reason to complain. However, the earnings of a Polish basketball player are already at a worse level – the stars of the league can count on around €150 000 per season. However, we are talking about stars, and inferior basketball players have much lower salaries.

The best volleyball players in Poland, and Poland stands for volleyball, can count on around €250,000 per year. Handball stars can count on €120,000 a year, but there are few such high earners. Kamil Stoch or Piotr Żyła earn quite well, as high places in ski jumping competitions result in financial bonuses from the organisers. However, inferior jumpers collect starvation amounts per season.


Athletics is a sport that generates great excitement during the Olympic Games, but enjoys moderate popularity on a daily basis. We weep when our athletes sing the Dabrowski Mazurka, but threshers, discus throwers or runners earn modest amounts of money and receive small stipends. In individual sports, the prizes for winning the Olympic Games are as follows: gold – USD 120 thousand, silver – USD 80 thousand, bronze. This is not so much, considering that we are talking about the best people in the world in their field, who have trained all their lives for these moments. A certain plus is that Olympic athletes can count on a special state pension.

Athletes without such success or who compete in ordinary competitions, however, can count on considerably less pay. Athletes with no success at all – and this is exactly what future champions are recruited from – often have to make do with meagre stipends, and even these are sometimes in short supply. Professional sport, outside of the world of football, is not an easy job.

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