Sat, Sep 14, 2013 - Page 19 News List

Former sportsmen struggling with addiction, illness

Reuters, LONDON

Almost a quarter of former sportsmen have battled with health, addiction or financial problems after retiring, according to a British survey published on Thursday.

More than 1,200 retired soccer, rugby union and rugby league players, jockeys and cricketers were polled by the Professional Players Federation (PPF), an umbrella body of players’ unions who interviewed a wide range of former sports professionals aged from 22 to 95.

Simon Taylor, the PPF general secretary, said some female jockeys may have been polled but, 99 percent of the respondents were men.

The results showed that while 79 percent said they were content with their lives, 32 per cent said they did not feel in control in the first two years after leaving sport.

Almost a quarter of them — 24 percent — said they had suffered from physical and mental health issues or financial and addiction problems as they attempted to embark on second careers once their professional sporting days were over.

Many soccer players have publicly struggled with their demons, former Manchester United and Northern Ireland great George Best being the most notable example. Former England midfielder Paul Gascoigne’s problems have also been well documented over the past few years.

About 16 percent said they experienced depression or “feelings of despair,” 17 percent had anxiety or stress issues and 16 percent suffered a loss of self-esteem once they retired.

Brendan Batson, the PPF chairman said in a release accompanying the survey: “This important study emphasizes the challenges professional sportspeople face in retirement and it is crucial we help them adjust to life out of the spotlight.”

Angus Porter, the chief executive of the Professional Cricketers’ Association, which initiated the study, added: “It is important that we continue to provide support, particularly in the crucial two year period after they stop playing.”

The most recent example of a former sportsman struggling to cope is Kenny Sansom, the ex-Arsenal defender who played 86 times for England and took part in two World Cups. His alcoholism was so bad he admitted to sleeping on park benches.

“When you come to the end of your career you obviously have more time on your hands and you drink three or four times a week, then it becomes every day, and at one stage I was drinking eight or nine bottles of wine a day,” he told Sky Sports News on Thursday.

“I was drinking to forget problems and I didn’t mind sleeping rough because I’d get miserably drunk and then just fall asleep somewhere on a park bench,” he said.

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