Tom Ransley won gold for Britain in the men’s eight at the Rio Olympics. He was due to row again in Tokyo this summer where he intended to end his career. The Olympic postponement pushed that date back a year. By 2021 he would be 35. He thought about the sacrifices continuing to compete would entail and felt his heart sink. After much soul-searching, he concluded his engine would not run that long.
When you no longer have the energy and the deep love for a sport, he reasoned, you can no longer give what you need to give to stay at the top. So he retired earlier this month.
These unique times bring an enforced space to reassess to us all. To re-appraise what is important in our lives and what is not. To tread the path you want to follow; not the one you have marched along through habit for as long as you can remember.
Many sportsmen will use this time out as an opportunity to reset their goals and drive towards them ever harder – faster, higher, stronger in the pursuit of medals, trophies and titles. If this period of sober recalibration teaches us anything it is that we only live once and we need to make the most of the time we are given.
For some that may mean a change of professional direction. For those with alternatives – Harry Kane maybe – that desire may push them towards a new challenge at another club.
Footballers’ professional careers flash by. They do not want to be left thinking ‘what if?’ afterwards.
But in lockdown, sport for a sportsman must seem miles away at the moment and for some the hiatus may have even more profound consequences. Maybe even deciding to turn their backs on it.
Routinely, a sportsman’s days are marked by training, games, wins and losses on endless repeat. It has been the case for as long as they can remember.
Pushed by a proud father, sucked into a club’s academy, developed through the sausage machine that spits them out into the pro game, their world view is seen through a postbox.
Athletes exist inside a bubble which keeps the real world at bay but when you are forced to confront a wider reality – as we all are at the moment – you cannot help but develop perspective and perspective can do strange things to a sportsman.
There is a tale about one English footballer who had carved out a prolonged and successful career in the old Second Division until, in training one day, he had a sudden thought out of the blue – ‘I am chasing a bag of air.’
It seemed ridiculous when he thought about it. So he tried not to think about it. But he couldn’t get it out of his head. And he was never the same player again.
Sport is essentially pointless. It is glorious escapism. While for many of us that will do just fine as a path through life for others this period may awaken a different urge.
Footballers have one very good incentive not to walk away – money – which will act as a counterbalance to any heretical thoughts which may surface. But in other sports, where the rewards are more or less on a par with normal society, some participants may find themselves mulling more deeply on them. The dream they blindly chased from childhood may have turned out to be not what they thought it might be.
For them the conclusion may be that for all sport is fun and there are harder ways to earn a living, there are also other more meaningful ways to live their lives.
When this is all over, Ransley may not be the only one who has decided his future lies elsewhere.
- Lewis Hamilton hails ‘legend’ Captain Tom Moore as WW2 vet raises cash
The message from the U-turns over furloughing non-playing staff is that even in the billionaires’ playground of the Premier League fan power can still count.
Gate income may be loose change compared to the riches that flood in through broadcasting and commercial deals but the voice of what used to be the terraces can still be heard in the boardroom.
The backlash at Liverpool, Spurs and Bournemouth from supporters at the unsavoury use of public money to subsidise wages hit the target. The clubs were made to wake up to the immorality of their actions.
Norwich and Newcastle remain hard of hearing. Over to their supporters to turn up the volume.
Let’s be ‘avin you, Delia, and how about doing one decent thing before you depart football, Mike?
- Anthony Joshua posts heart-warming message for Capt. Tom Moore
Sport makes a homespun return in the houses of locked-down darts professionals offering a ‘Through The Keyhole’-style window into the world of the darts star.
The PDC Home Tour will run for 32 consecutive evenings by which time we will know a whole lot more about the players and their home furnishings.
Will someone have a mural of Leighton Rees on the wall or a darts-board-design segmented circular dinner table?
Where will the board be? In the garage with the hedge clippers to avoid? Or in the living room with the accompanying danger to small children from bounce-outs and the possible complication of the dog walking off with the oche?
Will their be rowdy family members, dressed as German beer wenches, downing pints in the background?
All this and more will be revealed on the PDC website – as long as no-one is on Netflix somewhere else in the house and hogging the broadband.
Sport Personality of the Year nominees could be thin on the ground in 2020 given the unique circumstances. Captain Tom Moore may yet be the man.
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