With an average wage in the W-League of just over $16,000 a season, it’s understandable why Mindy Barbieri didn’t take up the necessary insurance to cover her at a Young Matildas camp last month.
- Soccer player Mindy Barbieri was unable to afford private health insurance ahead of an elite training camp
- A subsequent knee injury was set to cost her thousands of dollars in medical expenses
- A public funding campaign was launched before the FFA stepped in to cover her bills
The 19-year-old, fresh from winning last season’s Premiers’ Plate with Melbourne Victory, moved to Sydney and made numerous sacrifices in a bid to press her case for the Australian national program.
But things didn’t go to plan. Barbieri ruptured her ACL during the camp and found herself in need of a $10,000 operation.
Barbieri was only partially covered by the Football Federation Australia’s (FFA) insurance policy because she’d let a payment in her own private insurance fund lapse.
“I was unable to continue paying for my health fund due to financial reasons,” Barbieri said in a statement.
Professional Football Association (PFA) CEO John Didulica says it’s an unfortunate situation, especially for a player injured on Australian national team duties.
“It reinforces just how finely balanced life is for women footballers who are pursuing an elite career and the range of support they need to remain in the sport,” Mr Didulica said.
The FFA has since stepped in and announced that it will cover Barbieri’s medical bills.
However that wasn’t until a GoFundMe page started circulating on social media — supported by high-profile coaches and players.
Barbieri said she would fully refund all those who had pledged donations.
“I want to thank everyone for the donations and getting behind this situation, I really from the bottom of my heart appreciate the support from each and every one of you,” she said.
How can this happen?
Former Matildas goalkeeper Melissa Barbieri (who’s not related to Mindy) said every player needs to make sure they are fully insured.
“It’s in the best interests of everybody,” she said.
“I think under the requirements as an elite athlete, you have to have private health insurance.”
Melissa Barbieri said Mindy isn’t the first female professional she’s seen who’s been forced to take to the field without being fully insured.
“I remember a teammate did her collarbone and the same thing happened where she didn’t have insurance and she wasn’t able to get surgery,” said the veteran Australian goalkeeper.
“She just ended up trying to come back without it and now she has a giant bulge in her collarbone, but she managed to play on.”
Young Matildas poorly covered
Sportscover Australia CEO Simon Allatson said it wasn’t surprising that one of Australia’s rising female soccer players opted out of private health insurance because she couldn’t afford it.
“The cost of private health cover would be a legitimate consideration for them,” Mr Allatson said.
“If you are a professional football player playing in the European leagues then private health cover is probably not going to be much of an issue financially.
“It’s difficult to get a read on how many professional athletes from the various sports would have private health insurance.”
Allatson, who has worked in the insurance industry throughout his career, said Australia’s leading sports leagues often take care of private insurance cover in the playing contract rather than leaving it up to the player to decide.
“Sports such as the AFL and the NRL have ensured that their players do have private health insurance cover,” he said.
It is also standard practice in other professional leagues in the US and Europe.
“When you consider the value of the athletes that are running around on basketball courts or in the NFL, franchises make sure they have got adequate health cover for their athletes,” Mr Allatson said.
“We are talking about billion-dollar businesses. Private health cover would be mandatory.”