Former athletes struggling with addiction and illness

More than 1,200 retired footballers, rugby union and league players, jockeys and cricketers were polled by the Professional Players Federation, an umbrella body of players’ unions who interviewed a wide range of former sports professionals aged from 22 to 95.

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Simon Taylor, the PPF general secretary, told Reuters some female jockeys may have been polled but 99 percent of the respondents were men.

The results showed that while 79 per cent said they were content with their lives, 32 per cent said they did not feel in control in the first two years after leaving sport.

Almost a quarter of them – 24 per cent – said they had suffered from physical and mental health issues or financial and addiction problems as they attempted to embark on second careers once their professional sporting days were over.

Many footballers have publicly struggled with their demons with former Manchester United and Northern Ireland great George Best the most notable example. Former England midfielder Paul Gascoigne’s problems have also been well documented over the last few years.

Some 16 per cent said they experienced depression or “feelings of despair”, 17 per cent had anxiety or stress issues and 16 per cent suffered a loss of self-esteem once they retired.

Brendan Batson, the PPF chairman said in a release accompanying the survey: “This important study emphasises the challenges professional sportspeople face in retirement and it is crucial we help them adjust to life out of the spotlight.”

Angus Porter, the chief executive of the Professional Cricketers’ Association, which initiated the study, added: “It is important that we continue to provide support, particularly in the crucial two year period after they stop playing.”

PARK BENCH

The most recent example of a former sportsman struggling to cope is Kenny Sansom, the ex-Arsenal defender who played 86 times for England and took part in two World Cups. His alcoholism was so bad he admitted to sleeping on park benches.

“When you come to the end of your career you obviously have more time on your hands and you drink three or four times a week, then it becomes every day, and at one stage I was drinking eight or nine bottles of wine a day, ” he told Sky Sports News on Thursday.

“I was drinking to forget problems and I didn’t mind sleeping rough because I’d get miserably drunk and then just fall asleep somewhere on a park bench,” he added.

The PPF was organising a one-day conference in Birmingham to help former professionals cope with the trials of life as they embark on a second career.

The research found that almost half retained a link to their sport in some capacity, and the average salary among those surveyed was between 30,000 pounds ($47,400) and 40,000 pounds, above the average national wage of 26,000 pounds.

(Reporting by Mike Collett, editing by Alan Baldwin)

Ozil says Wenger’s trust was key to Arsenal move

Arsenal smashed their transfer record to sign the Germany international for 42 million pounds ($66.

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42 million) and the playmaker was quick to insist it was not a step backwards despite widespread surprise that the Spanish giants agreed to let him go.

“The most important thing was (the manager’s) plans for me and what he thinks about me,” Ozil, who created 92 chances for his team mates at Real last season, told reporters at his first news conference since his switch.

Speaking in German through a translator, Ozil said Arsenal provided the perfect environment for him to improve.

“I had a good time at Madrid and had good moments there,” he said. “You can see the reaction of the (Real) players and fans that they didn’t understand (why I left) but this is football and you have to look ahead.

“I want to continue developing here and I feel that I’m at the right club. I know how successful Arsenal have been. I know the step here is the right one.

“Many young players came here and got better. I’m happy to play under a great coach. I have a new task here, we have big goals and will work very hard to reach those goals.”

Ozil is in line for a Premier League debut at Sunderland on Saturday, especially as Wenger will be without Tomas Rosicky who was injured in midweek playing for the Czech Republic.

Wenger, who said the process of bringing Ozil to north London had been “complicated”, said the 24-year-old would become one of the leaders in the team.

“He has a style of play that will integrate with our style of play because his game is based on movement and technical ability. He has all the attributes to be one of our leaders.”

($1 = 0.6324 British pounds)

(Reporting by Martyn Herman, editing by Alan Baldwin)

Djokovic fired up to recapture Davis Cup glory

Looking upbeat and raring to go just a few days after a crushing U.

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S. Open defeat by Rafael Nadal, Djokovic was named to play singles on the opening day of the semi-final against Canada in the cavernous Belgrade Arena.

Any fatigue from his New York battles and the long-haul flight home will be soothed by the prospect of playing in front of the partisan home crowd, the world number one said.

“I am tired and jet-lagged but also as inspired and motivated as ever to play for my country,” Djokovic told a news conference after Thursday’s draw which pitted him against Vasek Pospisil in Friday’s opening singles rubber.

“It’s not the first time I’ve had only two days to recuperate for a Davis Cup tie after the U.S. Open and the fact that we will be playing at home for the first time in two years will galvanise us to perform.

“The 2010 triumph was a stepping stone for all of us in terms of our individual careers and that’s why we are really looking forward to it.”

Following their epic 3-2 win over France in the 2010 final, which produced a football-like atmosphere in a jam-packed arena, Serbia suffered their first loss at the venue in the 2011 semis.

An ailing Djokovic, who was nursing a ribcage injury, retired against Juan Martin del Potro in the reverse singles, handing Argentina an unassailable 3-1 lead as he collapsed to the ground in anguish.

It was an anti-climax to his memorable U.S. Open final win against Nadal that season, the most successful in the Serb’s career as he also claimed the Australian Open and Wimbledon to go with a myriad of Masters Series titles.

“I am fit this time and I don’t think adapting to red clay will be a problem because I’ve done it before,” he said of the specially-prepared clay surface.

“Canada are a very strong team but our home fans can help us prevail in what promises to be a delicately balanced tie.”

Janko Tipsarevic has returned to the Serbian squad after a 16-month absence and faces big-serving Milos Raonic in Friday’s second singles rubber.

Nenad Zimonjic and Ilija Bozoljac play Belgrade-born Daniel Nestor and Vasek Pospisil in Saturday’s doubles, while Djokovic locks horns with world No. 11 Raonic and Tipsarevic clashes with Pospisil in Sunday’s reverse singles.

Nestor, Zimonjic’s former doubles partner on the ATP Tour, said he expected no empathy from a raucous Belgrade crowd although he called his birthplace “a home away from home.”

“Will they take it easy on me? Maybe they will early on but if Serbia find themselves on the receiving end they will do what they have to in order to help the home team win,” he said.

Frank Dancevic, the other player in Canada’s squad, also has Serbian roots and added: “I always felt very welcome here and it’s great knowing the city and where to go to have a Serbian burger.”

The winners of the tie will face either holders the Czech Republic or Argentina in the final.

(Editing by Martyn Herman)

Stuart farewells Parramatta fans

Outgoing Parramatta coach Ricky Stuart expects the assassination of his character to continue after explaining to the Eels faithful he made the decision to quit the club for family and career reasons.

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Stuart addressed fans, sponsors, past and present players, coaches and management at the Parramatta presentation night at Rosehill Racecourse on Thursday night.

It was less than 24 hours after Parramatta announced Stuart would not fulfil the last two years of his contract and would be taking over at Canberra.

He spoke to the playing group earlier in the night and said it was a decision that he hadn’t taken lightly because it affected a lot of people.

“It’s been very hard, it’s been very difficult, it’s a very big decision,” Stuart said.

“I’ve had a lot of criticism today. It’s not easy to take.

“I’ve had my character judged.

I made a decision that’s best for my career and my family and I’ll wear all the criticism.”

“I’ve been assassinated over the last day and I’ll be assassinated again tomorrow, but they are small-minded people.

“They don’t understand the big decision I’ve had to make.”

Stuart said he didn’t back down from his mid-season decision to cut several players, who won’t be at the club next year.

“I’m proud of the fact that I’ve had to make this decision and I’m proud of the fact I’ve got the courage to do it,” Stuart said.

“I’ll continue to get the criticism, but I will stand strong and I’ll cop the criticism and I’ll cop the punishment whilst everyone knows it’s the best decision for myself and my family.”

He said he would love to see Parramatta successful again and was upbeat about their future despite the Eels collecting back-to-back wooden spoons.

“They are not too far away from being a consistently competitive football team,” Stuart said.

“Why? Because I really do believe that the debutants we had this year are genuine first-grade football players.

“There’s a couple of players, debutants, that will be representative players.

“I believe Darcy Lussick and Kelepi Tnaganoa are representative players of the future and Jacob Loko who has been very unfortunate with injury, is a representative player of the future.”

Stuart received support from key players including co-captain Tim Mannah, who won three awards on the night, and fellow forward Lussick, who took out the main Players’ Player prize.

“He’s off to Canberra and he’s going with my support and my best wishes,” Mannah said.

Lussick, who was in his first season after crossing from Manly said: “I really appreciate what he’s done for me and I’m forever indebted to him for what he’s done for me this year.”

Real unlikely to overburden Bale

Soccer’s richest club by income, who like champions Barca have a perfect nine points from three matches, splashed a record 100 million euros (84 million pounds) to secure Bale’s services and he could make his debut at promoted Villarreal in Saturday’s late kickoff (09.

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00 p.m. British time).

The 24-year-old winger played the final half hour of Wales’s 3-0 World Cup qualification defeat at home to Serbia on Tuesday, his first competitive action since July, and coach Chris Coleman warned it would be unwise for him to play a full match this weekend considering his relative lack of fitness.

Bale told reporters on Thursday he was “feeling good” and hoped to get a run-out at the Madrigal.

“Obviously I am a bit behind the rest of the squad in terms of physical fitness but I think it’s possible,” he said at the presentation of Real’s new orange away kit.

“I have been training for a week with Wales and I have already trained a couple of times here,” he added.

“The coach has welcomed me and hopefully I can quickly win a place in the team.”

Bale had his first workout with his new team mates after arriving in the Spanish capital on Wednesday and although Real have a number of players injured, coach Carlo Ancelotti is unlikely to deploy him from the start on Saturday.

Portugal pair Cristiano Ronaldo and Fabio Coentrao, Spain’s Isco and Marcelo of Brazil all returned from international duty with problems of varying degrees of seriousness.

Ronaldo and Isco were back with Bale and the rest of the squad on Thursday after training apart on Wednesday, while Marcelo had treatment from medical staff along with Coentrao and long-term absentee Xabi Alonso.

ATTACKING FLAIR

Villarreal, along with Atletico Madrid the only other team to win their opening three games, are eager to test themselves against opponents of Real’s calibre after spending a year in the second division.

Under coach Marcelino they have shown real attacking flair and their performances so far this term suggest they are more likely to be challenging for a place in Europe than flirting with relegation come the end of the campaign.

“It’s a chance to show that we can compete with anyone and that we can fight against a team like Madrid,” captain Bruno Soriano told a news conference on Wednesday.

“Last year, we were dreaming about playing these teams and now the opportunity has arrived and we want to put in a great performance,” the midfielder added.

“Personally I prefer it if an opponent is at full strength and that the best come so we can take them on.

“Although even if Madrid has some players out, I am sure they will have the same level of quality.”

Barca had some positive news on the injury front as they prepare for Saturday’s match at home to Sevilla (1800) when midfielder Sergio Busquets and fullback Daniel Alves completed a full training session on Thursday.

Neymar and World Player of the Year Lionel Messi were also back after representing Brazil and Argentina respectively.

Barca coach Gerardo Martino has used Neymar sparingly in the early stages of their title defence although he did play 90 minutes of the 3-2 victory at Valencia in their last league outing before the international break.

The 21-year-old shone for his country in friendly victories against Australia and Portugal, scoring a goal in each game including a trademark sprint through the Portuguese defence followed by a clinical finish.

Messi helped Argentina secure qualification for next year’s World Cup in Brazil with two penalties in Tuesday’s 5-2 success in Paraguay.

He missed the 1-0 La Liga win at Malaga last month due to a thigh problem before notching a hat-trick at Valencia to take his tally for the season to five goals in two games including a double at home to Levante in the opening round of matches.

Atletico, who are at home to promoted Almeria (1400) on Saturday, made a couple of new signings this month, bringing in Belgium defender Toby Alderweireld from Ajax Amsterdam and France midfielder Josuha Guilavogui from St Etienne.

Fellow Champions League participants Real Sociedad, who lost 2-1 at home to Atletico in their most recent outing, play at Levante, also on Saturday (1600).

(Editing by John O’Brien and Justin Palmer)

McShane wins U23 world triathlon title

Wollongong triathlete Charlotte McShane timed her run to perfection to become Australia’s latest triathlon world champion in London on Thursday.

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Scottish-born McShane, who emigrated with her family when she was 15 to live in Bairnsdale in country Victoria, broke away from a group of five others to clinch the gold medal in the Women’s ITU Under 23 World Triathlon Championship.

“I knew I had a good sprint so in the end I just backed myself and I won, I can’t believe it, I’ve never won anything before,” said McShane, one of four Australian training partners in the race.

“I wasn’t prepared to go, I was just waiting for the other girls to make their move and when they did I knew I could pounce and match them.”

McShane hit the final 100 metres and stormed away to beat Canadian pair Ellen Pennock and Amelie Kretz.

Of the three other members of Jamie Turner’s Wollongong Wizards group, Tamsyn Moana-Veale finished eighth, Grace Musgrove 12th and Natalie Van Coevorden 14th.

Earlier, a mud-splattered Jacob Birtwhistle produced a brave performance to get back on his bike for a fast finishing sixth in the Junior Men’s race.

The 18-year-old Launceston schoolboy crashed on the first lap of the 20km bike course and was also hit with a 10-second penalty for not putting his wetsuit in the designated box.

“That didn’t go according to plan, that’s for sure,” said a frustrated and bitterly disappointed Birtwhistle, showing the muddy and bloody wounds from the Hyde Park.

“Whatever could have gone wrong did go wrong.”

European champion Dorian Coninx of France won from Scottish pair Marc Austin and Grant Sheldon.

In the Junior Women’s race West Australian Jaz Hedgeland fell just five seconds short of a podium finish.

She was fourth behind triumphant American Tamara Gorman, Georgia Taylor-Brown of Britain and German Laura Lindeman.

“I set myself the goal of winning the gold medal,” said Hedgeland.

“So I am disappointed to finish fourth but I left nothing out there. I’ll be back next year having another crack.

“I was well up in the swim and worked really hard on the bike but when it came to the run I just had nothing in my legs.”

Vitori’s five-wicket haul allows Zimbabwe to gain upper hand

The home side, seeking to level the two-match series, were 121 for four in their second innings after earlier dismissing Pakistan for 230 at the Harare Sports Club.

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Mawoyo (58) and Hamilton Masakadza (44) were aggressive in forging a strong 104-run second wicket partnership for Zimbabwe to give them a real chance of setting Pakistan a tough target to chase for victory on a wicket expected to deteriorate.

But they both lost their wickets late in the day just when they looked set to return to the crease on Friday.

Mawoyo, who has struggled in the series since returning from injury, survived several close calls, including being dropped by wicketkeeper Adnan Akmal off the bowling of Saeed Ajmal, as he showed a return to form.

But he fell to a ball from Abdur Rehman that skidded on and trapped him leg before two overs from the close. Masakadza was similarly caught on the front foot four balls later and then night watchman Tinashe Panyangara was dismissed without scoring, bringing the third day to a close.

Pakistan were 163 for three overnight, in reply to Zimbabwe’s first innings total of 294, but hopes of a full day at the crease on a docile surface were dented when captain Misbah-ul-Haq (33) fell soon after the new ball was taken and Younus Khan (77) was caught by Mawoyo at mid wicket off Panyangara.

Pakistan’s last six wickets tumbled for only 19 runs as Vitori returned figures of five for 61 and Panyangara got two wickets with successive balls.

Vitori is only the second Zimbabwean bowler to take five wickets in a test innings since 2005.

(Reporting by Mark Gleeson in Cape Town, editing by Pritha Sarkar)

Language row erupts over planned Belgian stadium

The planned 60,000-seater stadium is to be the centrepiece of Brussels’ bid to host matches during the 2020 European soccer championships, replacing the current 45,000 capacity King Baudouin stadium.

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The venues are little more than a kilometre (1 mile) apart, but while the present stadium is in officially bilingual but largely French-speaking Brussels, its planned successor is in the exclusively Dutch-speaking region of Flanders.

Flemish politicians are bristling at the thought of Brussels extending its francophone culture beyond its borders, leading Flemish Sports Minister Philippe Muyters to say language rules must be respected.

“One of the underlying elements should be an agreement on the use of Dutch there,” Muyters, a member of the Flemish separatist N-VA party, told the television programme Terzake on Wednesday, hours after the agreement was reached.

Rudi Vervoort, premier of the Brussels region, responded in an interview on La Premiere radio station on Thursday, saying ‘Dutch only’ could not be the rule at a national stadium.

“Dutch will be secondary, as French will be secondary. We will mainly talk English,” he said. “The stadium will not be brought down by the use of languages.”

Language is a frequent flashpoint in Belgium, where the wealthier Flemish majority fiercely protects its Dutch language and culture and is constantly on the look-out for encroachments by French speakers, particularly in areas surrounding Brussels.

The country went for 19 months without a new government after 2010 elections due to differences between French-speaking and Flemish parties.

The issue has flared again as politicians seek vie for votes at next year’s regional, European and federal elections.

Earlier this month, the council of the Flemish district of Menen, which borders France, decided that it would no longer tolerate the use of French in its town hall, saying anyone who did not speak Dutch must rely on hand gestures instead.

(Reporting by Philip Blenkinsop; Editing by Paul Taylor)

Top four finish still the priority for Spurs

“Our objective is the same, it’s Champions League qualification,” he told a news conference ahead of Saturday’s home game against Norwich City.

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“Our level of expenditure in the transfer market raises expectations but they have to be real expectations, not false expectations,” added the Portuguese.

“We don’t have the experience to deal with the pressure of a team that plays for the title. We have never done it, you know, in these recent years and we will compete as usual for Champions League places…”

Tottenham finished fifth in the league last season and missed out on a Champions League place to North London rivals Arsenal.

They are currently sixth, with six points from their three matches after losing 1-0 at Arsenal this month.

They have sold Wales winger Gareth Bale to Real Madrid for a world record 100 million euros $133.08 million and re-invested the money in a list of new signings, including Argentina forward Erik Lamela from Roma for a club record 35 million euros.

Villas-Boas said it might be too early for the 21-year-old to start on Saturday.

“He is a player with tremendous potential that we have to work on,” he said, pointing out that Lamela had limited English and still had to adapt to his new surroundings.

“We are pretty sure he will be able to do (that) but we are unsure of how much time it will take,” he said. “The fact that he has yet to train with the team puts him in a very difficult position to start the game but not impossible.”

($1 = 0.7514 euros)

(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Pritha Sarkar)

Premier League says backs plan to improve England team

Newly appointed FA Chairman Greg Dyke last week cited the influence of foreign players in the Premier League as one of the factors holding back the England team.

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England’s only major trophy was in 1966 when they won the World Cup on home soil.

“There is a strong desire to see greater numbers of England qualified players coming through their Academy systems that are capable of performing at both Premier League and international standard,” Premier League Chairman Anthony Fry said on Thursday.

“There is no doubt around the Premier League table as to the benefits of a national set-up that is thriving and performing well,” Fry added.

Dyke, a former television executive, spoke to Premier League chairmen and chief executives at one of their regular meetings in London on Thursday.

“We already know there is a lot of good work going on but I suspect there is more to be done,” Dyke said after the meeting, welcoming the commitment from the Premier League.

The Premier League is the richest in the world but there is frustration among fans about its clubs’ failure to produce as many good young players as rivals do in countries like Germany, Spain and the Netherlands.

Critics argue that the financial rewards of the Premier League encourage teams to buy in foreign players as a short cut to ensure survival or success.

The Premier League is investing 340 million pounds (339 million pounds) to try to improve its academies. It points out that it is only one season into this four-year programme to find the heirs to players like David Beckham and Michael Owen.

($1 = 0.6319 British pounds)

(Writing by Keith Weir, 44 20 7542 8022; editing by Justin Palmer)