UK & World News
Addiction And Illness High Among Ex-Sportsmen
Almost a quarter of retired sportsmen admit to health, addiction or financial issues according to new research.
A survey of 1,200 retired footballers, rugby players, cricketers and jockeys by the players' unions revealed the extent of the challenge facing athletes when they step away from sport and attempt to establish second careers.
The research found that while 79% of former sportsmen said they were content with their lives, 32% said they did not feel in control of their lives in the first two years after leaving sport.
And 24% said they had suffered from physical and mental health issues or financial and addiction problems as they sought to move on from professional sport.
Some 16% said they experienced depression or "feelings of despair", 17% had anxiety or stress, and 16% suffered a loss of self-esteem once they retired.
The challenges that can face even highly successful athletes are evident in the case of Kenny Sansom, the former Arsenal and England footballer, who recently admitted to alcoholism so severe he was reduced to sleeping rough.
Sansom told Sky News that his problems with alcohol increased when he stopped playing professionally.
"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.
"I was drinking to forget problems and I didn't mind sleeping rough because I'd get miserably drink and then just fall asleep somewhere on a park bench."
When Sansom's plight was highlighted in the media he sought help from the Professional Footballers' Association, and is currently being treated at a Champneys health resort, which offered to help when his problems came to light.
The former full-back, who played 86 times for England including every game in the 1982 and 1986 World Cups, said he has been sober for more than a month.
"I can't really say I will never drink again because I'll not only be kidding people watching this but I'd be kidding myself, but I take one day at a time and today I don't want a drink."
Sansom said he would encourage any sportsmen with similar problems to seek help: "I think the biggest thing is don't be afraid to ask for help, that doesn't mean you are weak, it actually means you are stronger."
The challenges facing sportsmen in retirement are the subject of a one-day conference hosted by the Professional Players' Federation (PPF), the umbrella group for players' unions, being staged in Birmingham.
It will discuss the troubling findings of its research, which highlight that for many sportsmen a second career can be more challenging than the first.
While Premier League footballers can earn extravagant sums, for the majority of those in cricket, rugby and racing, a second career is a necessity.
The PPF research found that almost half of sportsmen retained a link to their sport, and the average salary among those surveyed was between £30,000 and £40,000, well above the average national wage of £26,000.
The research concludes that retiring on their own terms and preparing for life after sport while still playing are crucial factors in helping athletes cope with the transition to a successful, happy second career.