Work drying up as the sporting wheel just stops turning

Arigo Sacchi, the great Italian football coach, once said football is the “most important of the least important things in life”.

Work drying up as the sporting wheel just stops turning

Arigo Sacchi, the great Italian football coach, once said football is the “most important of the least important things in life”.

Millions around the world agree with him, with sport the great distraction in many daily lives. But to many sport is more than that, it’s a job.

Right now, most professionals are enjoying an enforced break from their chosen sport — training at home, pounding the streets, swimming solo, with many of them comfortable thanks to the vast sums of money their elite status affords them.

But for others in the industry, from journalists and coaches to trainers and agents, the wheel has stopped turning, and the absence of the least important thing becomes a serious, gaping hole.

Missing the thrill of a weekend match is a small price to pay, when viewed in the appropriate context of a pandemic, but missing the monthly paycheck — as many will — is something rather more serious.

“My industry has just shut down,” explains David McHugh, from sports management company Line Up.

“Like everybody else, we’re just waiting to see what happens next.

There’s no games, no training, gathering is socially unacceptable, so it’s almost a case of let the athletes sit for two and a half months until the next season starts.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen, I don’t think anyone knows.

“It’s hard to tell the wood from the trees...there’s obviously a bigger picture here, but from a purely selfish point of view, there’s no work I can do — there’s no money coming in.

"We’ve a certain level of insulation, but there will come a time when we run out of money.

“People who are making an inordinate amount of money might be able to take a hit, but not everyone.”

Line Up represent athletes like Tadhg Furlong, James Ryan, Kellie Harrington, and Annalise Murphy, as well as pundits like Tommy Bowe and Andy Lee, covering a range of sports and disciplines.

Rugby is a major sector for the company, and with the Guinness Pro14 and European competitions currently postponed, it’s not an ideal time to be calling around clubs and sponsors.

“We are very fortunate that it’s literally only one or two players who are unsure about their futures,” McHugh explains.

“The rest are under contract, or had their deals renewed.

“If unions and clubs have cash flow they can continue to pay salaries in the near future, but the players have been given a week of their summer holidays so they’re not training as usual.

“The lads who are up in the air...it’s hard to hold any discussions — they’ll just have to be patient, like the rest of us.

“I’ve had a few discussions with sponsors over the last few days, saying ‘these are due’ now, and the big businesses are operating normally, but others, smaller companies, are in a different boat.”

McHugh has little time for discussions over what teams will be given trophies if the season is ended prematurely, and the former Olympic sailor is unsure if the Tokyo games are even a possibility at this rate.

Gary and Paul (O’Donovan — 2016 medallists in Rio) — are renting a house in Skibbereen, and isolating themselves. There is no racing, and no trials can be held.“
Gary and Paul (O’Donovan — 2016 medallists in Rio) — are renting a house in Skibbereen, and isolating themselves. There is no racing, and no trials can be held.“

“If you were making a decision today, it couldn’t go ahead,” he said.

“The rowing World Cup has been cancelled, so technically there’s only one competitive event pre-Olympics,” he said.

“Gary and Paul [O’Donovan — 2016 medallists in Rio] — are renting a house in Skibbereen, and isolating themselves. There is no racing, and no trials can be held.

“Kelly [Harrington — boxer] was in London where they held qualifiers earlier this week — that was a strange decision.

“Sailing’s Olympic qualifier in Genoa is cancelled, so while you’d assume Annalise [Murphy] is a shoo-in, the sport won’t have completed a full trial before the Games, so you just can’t give any answers.”

McHugh also works with the women’s hockey team, who historically qualified for Tokyo last year — another team crippled by the ongoing coronavirus lockdown.

“They were meant to go to South Africa on Monday to play GB and China, but that was cancelled and they’re all in self isolation.

"They have been told to keep active and await more instructions.

"But it’s exactly the same for Spain, Germany, and the rest of the countries, it’s not like any nation is getting a competitive advantage.

“But you’ve no choice but to see the bigger picture in all this, people will lose jobs and unfortunately lives.

There’s likely to be plenty of impact in sport, just as there is in general life and people’s health. For the first time in our generation nobody knows the answer.”

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