Most sports careers reach the finale by the time its practitioners turn 40, as it has happened with Roger Federer and Serena Williams in recent weeks. In sports that are less exacting physically, like say golf or chess, it may stretch up to 50. But for the most part, athletes and sports people are done and dusted in their disciplines well before other professional careers where you one can go on till 60-65. What happens to athletes and sports people who retire in their 30s and 40s?
Well, obviously some go into coaching and administration in the sports they played in — if they have the credentials. More and more are becoming experts and analysts in the media — if they are good at it. A few who have managed to get or retain academic credentials even through their sports career pick up where they left off to pursue an alternate career — eg England’s cricket captain, Mike Brearley, a psychotherapist. Some get corporate jobs — mostly as a sinecure — on the strength of their sporting achievement. Some others go into business, often with unhappy results (eg Boris Becker).
But I suspect a vast majority of them waste away. I know of at least a couple of accomplished cricketers who became alcoholics since they lacked social skills, media savvy, academic chops and whatever else it takes to make it good beyond sports. Mind you, they were really nice guys during their playing days — decent, genteel, humble. But it got them nowhere after their playing days which was at a time there was not a great deal of money in cricket.
Listening to a more recent test cricketer take up a role as a expert on TV in addition to his job as a member of parliament got me thinking about how many sports folks and athletes enter politics and public service. Not as many as film starts I suspect. I am referring of course to Gautam Gambhir, who is now a BJP Lok Sabha member from East Delhi. By my reckoning, only about half dozen test cricketers have joined politics and made a mark in it, by which I mean been elected (not nominated — like Sachin Tendulkar) to parliament: Chetan Chauhan, Kirti Azad, Mohammed Azharuddin, and Navjot Sidhu come to mind. Tiger Pataudi tried and failed.
In hockey, our other national sport, Aslam Sher Khan and Dilip Tirkey come to mind, both elected to the Lok Sabha. And in football, there is Prasun Banerjee from the Trinamul Congress, also elected to Lok Sabha. Then of course there is Olympic shooting gold medalist Rajvardhan Rathore, a BJP MP who is also the sports minister. Slim pickings.
It’s not much different in other countries. In neighboring Pakistan Imran Khan arguably became the most successful sportsman-turned-politician in the world when he became the prime minister of the country. Pakistan’s first Test captain Abdul Hafeez Kardar became a member of the punjab assembly and later a minister, but did not make it at the national level. In Sri Lanka, Arjuna Ranatunga entered politics and became a cabinet Minister of transport and civil aviation.
In non-SENA countries, Ric Charlesworth, who played both first class cricket and international hockey for Australia, became an MP, as did John Alexander, a Davis Cupper and contemporary of Vijay Amritraj. And in Guyana, former opener Roy Fredericks, became the sports minister.
Outside of cricket and cricketing nations, the United States had many sports stars entering politics, but they were mostly from baseball and American football, so the names will not resonate with Indian audiences or readership.
England, the home of cricket, arguably had more cricketer-politicians than any other country, going back to the 19th century, few more famous than Stanley Jackson, who captained England in five Test matches in 1905, winning two and drawing three to retain The Ashes. He later became the Governor of Bengal during the “British Raj” — the English colonisation of India. Outside cricket, middle distance runner Sebastian Coe was a member of parliament for many years.
Sports at the highest level is tough, but politics is brutal and unsparing. Looking at Roger Federer shedding tears at his farewell game, one thing seems certain: Whatever else this great champion does in life, he won’t be entering politics. There is no place for tears in politics. Except perhaps for false tears.
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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