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Action Replay: After the Ball Game

Last month we wrote about the problems encountered by athletes, including Olympians, who are less successful than they expected. But even those who achieve their goals can still find themselves in a bit of a pickle once they retire, with no obvious job to go to. Not everyone can become a coach or a media pundit. As one former hockey player said, ‘It’s really scary for some athletes, devastating. We’ve all got rent and mortgages to pay’ (BBC Online, 17 February).

So in January various sporting bodies organised the first Athletes Career Fair in Reading. It was intended to offer advice to athletes on career possibilities, financial planning and such evergreen topics as writing a CV. Prospective employers were attracted with assurances that ‘Athletes offer a wide range of transferable skills,’ including ‘the ability to perform under pressure.’ But having little or no work experience or professional qualifications was for many probably a bit of a handicap as far as employability was concerned.

One Paralympian horse-rider may well lose out as the government saves money by replacing the Disability Living Allowance with the Personal Independence Payment. But at least she was able to boast that gold medals in the London games would help to open doors for her: ‘It means I’m now able to sell myself a bit more,’ she said at the fair (Daily Telegraph, 19 January).

And sadly, selling yourself is precisely the name of the game, not just for athletes and ex-athletes but for the rest of us too. Being one of the best at running, jumping or whatever does not guarantee that anyone will want to buy your labour power once you can no longer run so fast or jump so far. You are just another member of the workforce, hoping someone will employ you, a degrading position to be in.