30 July 2021 - Article
Whether you are team Europe or team USA, a golf fan, or an occasional viewer, there is no doubt that the Ryder Cup is a key moment in the sporting calendar. It is an opportunity to see fresh talent battle against the brightest stars in the game. As the Ryder Cup tees off today we take our final look at legal issues that golfers, and sports people generally, face at different stages in their careers.
Hole 19 (Clubhouse) – Managing the yips in retirement
Even in sports like golf where a player can be successful into their 40s and beyond, there comes a point where a player has to finish his last round and hang up his clubs. However, retirement after a career as a professional athlete creates a number of issues across a lot of sports.
The first thing that often comes to mind is financial security. As we have highlighted in our previous posts, sensible planning arrangements can assist with this, as can making the most of commercial opportunities when brand value and influence are at that strongest. A recent study by the Professional Players Federation ('PPF') found that 78% of those surveyed wished they had taken more financial advice when they were playing sport to help with their transition.
The second thing is to consider what to do next. In order to be successful players and other athletes have to be fully committed to their career, making no compromises. Unlike those of us with the luxury of leaving our work in the office (for the most part) a player's entire life has an effect on their performance – what they eat, how much they sleep, all of the little marginal gains that can make the difference between winning and, well, not winning. Leaving that behind and readjusting back to life as a civilian can be tough – with the strict regimen gone, the wheels can fall off. Former sportspeople often feel a loss of status and purpose, which can lead to mental health issues. The PPF study showed that 54% of past players have, at some time since retiring, had concerns about their mental and emotional wellbeing. Research has shown that “strong and exclusive athletic identity leaves an athlete vulnerable to emotional difficulties, including depressive symptoms, following athletic career termination.” Athletics star Dame Kelly Holmes, football legend George Best, hockey champ Crista Cullen and famed boxer Sugar Ray Leonard are just a few who have spoken about their difficulty transitioning from their career highs.
This huge life adjustment is therefore something that needs careful thought ahead of time. A professional athlete's career can be cut short in an instant with a severe injury so an early idea of a plan B is helpful. Without this, former athletes may struggle. Badminton champion Gail Emms has been forthcoming about the career struggles she faced after saying goodbye to professional competition – “my CV literally reads: 'Can hit a shuttle really hard.'” Although this perhaps overlooks the many other attributes that she will have developed over the years – not least determination and organisation, key skills for any professional player. There are a number of obvious alternative careers for the retiring athlete: coach, manager/agent, media presenter/commentator etc. It is often possible to start acquiring skills and qualifications, or even starting to undertake this type of work whilst still playing professionally, before making the full transition after retirement.
Alternatively, the attributes of a professional athlete often transfer well into other careers, or indeed into setting up and running a successful business or charitable foundation. Greg Norman, 20-time PGA Tour champion, credits his competitive drive with helping him succeed as an entrepreneur: “I used to wake up thinking how I would beat my opponents on the course. Now I wake up thinking how to beat them in business.” We have looked previously at some of the issues around making investments and philanthropy. As above, this kind of venture ideally needs careful planning in advance, ideally with the benefit of professional advisers.
The life of a professional athlete is incredibly demanding. When the player finally makes it to the clubhouse, whether at the end of a brilliant and lengthy career, or disappointingly earlier than expected, it should be a time to sit back and reflect on successes and lessons learned, and look forward to the future. Planning for this moment can remove some of the uncertainty and anxiety and allow the player to glide into a new phase of their life, that is hopefully as successful and fulfilling as their time as a player.
Libby Payne, Associate, employment, London
Lana Neil, Paralegal, employment, London
*The information and comments in this blog are for the general information of the reader and are not intended as legal advice or opinions to be relied upon in relation to any particular circumstances. For particular application of the law to specific situations, the reader should seek professional advice.