Sydney Football Club sparked outrage this week when it advertised for someone to work three to four days a week for nine months, as a volunteer. The unpaid job, to work as a strength and conditioning assistant, was specifically looking for someone with a degree in human movement, exercise or sports science.
But the job ad was pulled on Wednesday amid a barrage of criticism online.
— Thomas Bell (@TomRBell93) August 27, 2019
Sydney FC soon clarified that the position was actually for “3 / 4 students each working 1 day per week for 9 months in our High Performance Dept”.
After an investigation it seems the role is intended to be an internship for 3/4 students each working 1 day per week for 9 months in our High Performance Dept. However it was incorrectly worded & badly phrased when posted by a team member not usually experienced in such matters
— Sydney FC (@SydneyFC) August 27, 2019
It said the original ad was “incorrectly worded & badly phrased”, a response that was not received kindly by those who had been following the story.
Was this team member a volunteer as well?
— Brogan - Firewire Digital (@firewiredigital) August 27, 2019
If those 3/4 students working one day per week are effectively replacing a paid employee, that is still unethical and wrong.
— Elliott Richardson (@ElliottRichard1) August 28, 2019
But questions remain about how volunteer work should be regulated to ensure any unpaid position is mutually beneficial for both graduates and employers.
Offering unpaid positions that should be a paid position is against the law.
Fair Work Ombudsman Sandra Park has outlined very clearly the difference between an internship and what should be paid work:
Unpaid placements are lawful where they are part of a vocational placement related to a course of study. However, the law prohibits the exploitation of workers when they are fulfilling the role of an actual employee.
We’ve been here before
The issue raises again the problem of interns in the workplace, a matter the Fair Work Ombudsman investigated back in 2014.
The recommendation then was that unpaid internships and work experience should:
[…] not run for a long period of time, not be work that a normal employee would perform, not require the person to come to work or perform productive activities, and mostly benefit the person, not the business/organisation.
But what is a graduate to do when looking to gain entry to the workplace, especially something as competitive as the sporting industry?
Sport and volunteers
Sport has a long history of using volunteers to fill key gaps in the organisation and running of sporting events. The selling point for mega events such as the Commonwealth Games or the Olympics is that volunteers gain an invaluable, once-in-a-lifetime experience.
These volunteers are often used to guide athletes and sports fans around stadiums. Sport promoters also leverage the “glamour of being behind the scenes” of an international sporting tournament to drive volunteer numbers.
A study done for the International Olympic Committee (IOC) on volunteers at the 2000 Sydney Olympics said their value at the time was at least A$109,756,925 for the 40,000 volunteers who provided assistance.
Now, 20 years later, Tokyo organisers will use twice that many volunteers. The 2020 Tokyo Olympics has put out a call for 80,000 volunteers, bringing debates about volunteering to the surface once more.
Internships get students in the door
Unpaid internships give students the opportunity to kick off their careers working in an industry they are passionate about. Our sports management students undertake a 120-hour internship as part of their degree, receiving vital experience and training within the sports industry.