Over the past 30 years I must have heard – and so have you – hundreds of victorious sportsmen and sportswomen insist it was the “fear of failure” that drove them on to their greatest successes. The fear of losing, the fear of being deemed a failure by their friends, family and colleagues; the fear of letting their team or country down, the fear of being considered second rate or a fraud. The fear of being found wanting. For some – the majority I suspect – it’s a grind with tears and tantrums along the way. As is life.
So why suddenly all these complaints about the “climate of fear” and unbearable pressure to win? I am putting to one side proven allegations of bullying and abuse – which cannot be tolerated – what did they expect? Elite sport is clearly an extremely “fearful” world – cut-throat according to Chris Hoy – although that self-generated fear of failure that hangs heavy for some it is massive motivating force for others. They enter a world – their own mad, whacky and self-absorbed world – in which being the best is their raison d’etre, being second best sucks and being an also ran can lead to recriminatory, vengeful and even suicidal thoughts. That is not always the fault of others. And, by the way, the real world can really suck as well, more than perhaps some sporting stars ever quite grasp.
Nor do I understand the notion that being very well funded British athlete is a job with the “rights” of a job. Absolutely not. The majority of GB sportsmen and women are not Lottery funded. They are self-funded or sponsored locally. The unseen iceberg beneath the surface. That doesn’t make them non-athletes. In the world of athletics, Jenny Meadows and Andy Turner didn’t cease to be athletes when their funding was suddenly axed, nor did James Dasaolu, Eilish McColgan or Laura Weightman. They battled on, it was their vocation, not their “job”.
The moment you start cruising and viewing your merit-based UK Sport funding as a salaried “job” with attendant employee rights is possibly the moment you should consider retiring. Sport isn’t that cosy. On the contrary funding is a rare privilege that, at the top end, you must justify on a regular basis. To borrow from a favourite rugby theme, you are the very temporary wearer of the shirt. Don’t go getting too comfortable.
I’ve spent a fiver a week for 20 years now at the Lottery (one pathetic £10 win!). You possibly have as well. But we are not soft touches. If a sportsman or woman gets axed from of a programme for under-performing – especially over a period of years – get back on the horse. Don’t go abusing our generosity by rushing to the courts.
And here’s a thing. The most uplifting quote in sport – and you’ve all heard it – is the joyous “I would do this for nothing”. The mindset of many winners, which ironically almost always results in them earning infinitely more in the long run.