Staying relevant in a world that moves on

Sportsmen retire at an age when those around them are just beginning to step into the middle phase of their careers which calls for consolidation.

Honest confession: “I’m boxing because I can. I don’t enjoy anything else, I don’t have any hobbies. After boxing I will be a very sad, lonely person. I’ve tried raising animals, four-wheeled driving, got a shotgun licence, clay pigeon shooting, nothing turns me on,” says British boxer Tyson Fury.   -  REUTERS

How many sportsmen continue doing what they do till it gets dangerous simply because they don’t know anything else? Here’s the heavyweight champion Tyson Fury: “What motivates me? It’s definitely not a few quid, it’s a fact there’s nothing else. I’m boxing because I can. I don’t enjoy anything else, I don’t have any hobbies. After boxing I will be a very sad, lonely person. I’ve tried raising animals, four-wheeled driving, got a shotgun licence, clay pigeon shooting, nothing turns me on.”

The fear is common, but seldom expressed with such honesty. Boxers go on till that one bout becomes one bout too many. Soccer stars continue till that final ruinous tackle, tennis players find it difficult to get off the merry-go-round of practice-tournament-pack-travel and the perks of their job.

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After Fury beat Vladimir Klitschko in 2015, he felt he had climbed his Everest, and there was nowhere left to go. “I had achieved everything I had set out to do,” he said. Soon he was putting on weight and battling thoughts of suicide (he nearly drove a Ferrari off a bridge at 300 kmph). He spiralled out of control with depression, addiction, and a ban from the boxing world. He was honest about confessing then too.

Remarkably, within a year, Fury had shed over 60 kilos and was fighting Deontay Wilder. He was put on the road to recovery by a psychiatrist, a psychotherapist, family support, regular exercise, abstinence and renewed faith. The fight he should have won was — controversially — declared a draw, and afterwards Fury donated his eight million pound fee to the homeless. “For all the people out there with mental health problems, I did it for you guys,” he said of his amazing recovery.

Fury’s fear about finishing a lonely, sad person post-boxing is understandable, but no less poignant for that. Sportsmen retire at an age when those around them are just beginning to step into the middle phase of their careers which calls for consolidation. They might have made more money and are guaranteed of a greater audience for whatever they do than others, but they are only halfway through their life and worry about the other half.

Which is why many of them are advised to diversify as they age. Businesses with millions in turnover do the same, and the top sports stars are in any case business houses with a turnover in millions.

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Indian cricket stars tend to establish restaurants to give themselves something to do later in life. Many, of course, turn coaches, selectors or commentators — but still have a Plan B (usually restaurants) in hand.

There is something heart-rending about Fury’s cry. He is only 33, and his search for meaning in life beyond boxing is as much about staying relevant in a world that moves on as about enjoying the fruits of his years of hard work and training in the sport he loves. It is not unique to sportsmen, but it stands out in sharper relief in their careers.

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