Coronavirus: Athletes facing career-ending situation – World Players executive Schwab

By Sports Desk March 26, 2020

Athletes are at risk of having their careers cut short if soon-to-be free agents face a prolonged period of unemployment due to the coronavirus pandemic, warned World Players Association executive director Brendan Schwab.

COVID-19 has brought sport to a standstill across the globe, with the 2020 Olympic Games, major European football leagues, the NBA, MLB and NHL postponed.

Euro 2020 and Copa America 2020 have been pushed back to next year amid the fight to combat the spread of the virus, which has claimed more than 21,290 lives.

It remains to be seen when and if the 2019-20 Premier League, LaLiga, Serie A, Bundesliga and Ligue 1 seasons will resume, raising doubts over the futures of football players – whose contracts are due to expire in June.

The likes of Edinson Cavani and Thiago Silva (both Paris Saint-Germain), Willian (Chelsea) and Dries Mertens (Napoli) are all set to become free agents.

As clubs and organisations try to reduce costs amid the economic crisis, Schwab – who works for World Players, which brings together 85,000 players across professional sports through more than 100 player associations in over 60 countries – told Stats Perform: "The challenge is to ensure enough liquidity during the shutdown so that the same content can be delivered to fans, broadcasters and brands but over a longer period.

"Existing contracts and regulations such as contract expiry dates and transfer windows will all need to be reformulated which can only be done though collective decision-making involving governments, sports bodies, broadcasters, stadia operators, player unions and civil society. The impact on the sporting schedule will be long-lasting and may take several years to return to normal.

"Seasons just starting – such as MLB, AFL and NRL – have a longer struggle in many ways. Shortened seasons are likely, but it all depends on the length of the shutdown, liquidity and the window available to complete seasons. Sports which own their own infrastructure will have greater flexibility and will be in a stronger position to design solutions.

"The key is collective decision-making, goodwill and long-term thinking, all of which can be difficult during such uncertainty. Many key sports governing, commercial and player contracts have 'force majeure' clauses which may apply in these circumstances. Certain parties may be able to 'cut and run', but that will only worsen the bleeding and make recovery more difficult. We need to bunker down, show we care about our people, fight the pandemic, exercise restraint, save as many jobs and legitimate commercial interests as we can, and re-emerge with a renewed, sustainable and collectively developed economic model.

"Tuesday was the anniversary of the death of arguably football’s most influential figure, Johan Cruyff. He famously said that there is advantage in every disadvantage. That thinking is needed right now."

Schwab added: "Individual players will be impacted differently. The destiny of free agents will depend much on the state of the leagues once the shutdown has been lifted. There is a risk that players coming off contract will face a prolonged period of unemployment if the shutdown continues, which can be career ending.

"The top players should be OK during this period, but remember they are a fraction of players and athletes who work professionally. It is likely that the economic impact of the shutdown will result in a deflated labour market for some time, which will suppress wages even among the viable leagues. For leagues outside the very top echelon, it may be a battle for survival.

"However, sport's essential role in society will be unchanged and may even be renewed and elevated. It will have a critical role to play as the community reunites after the pandemic and we expect a major resurgence in demand. Sport is therefore an important part of government planning, and it is pleasing to see that progressive governments in Switzerland, Sweden and some other countries have included sport in the stimulus packages they are announcing. They will reap a community dividend for doing so even as they balance the essential interests of the broader society and economy."

"[Next year] an intense year for sport as current seasons will now run well into the northern summer and that will require a readjusted schedule in 2021," the Australian executive continued. "The postponement of the Olympics may allow for existing concerns to be addressed including the health and safety impacts of the extreme heat of July-August in Tokyo. These issues all need to be worked through. We shouldn't assume the Olympics are simply put back 12 months. We are consulting with our affiliates about how to approach the shaping of the 2021 sports calendar."

Coronavirus has largely affected the elderly and people with pre-existing conditions, but Schwab said: "We have been concerned with some of the heath information being conveyed, including that COVID-19 is a disease that mainly affects the elderly and the vulnerable. Athletes, too, are vulnerable, despite being young and fit. The disease attacks the lungs, and athletes themselves have suffered very severe symptoms which may be long-lasting. There have been fatalities among people between 20 and 44 and young people can transmit the virus even if they don't have symptoms.

"Players have also been forced into quarantine when living away from their families. It is necessary that effective support mechanisms are in place to ensure the mental health and social wellbeing of players as well as their physical health. Our player unions play an essential role here."

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    Nervous as hell, Tiger Woods stood over his first putt at The Masters and gave the ball a fair thunk towards the hole, near as dammit 25 feet away.

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    By the time Woods woke on the morning on his Masters bow, he could plot out a good map of Augusta National.

    Not just the course and its colourful flora, but the corridors, nooks and crannies of its clubhouse were becoming imprinted on the mind of the teenage Woods. He was staying for the week in the Crow's Nest, the quaint, rather rustic second-floor accommodation reserved for players from the unpaid ranks, with Woods in the tournament by virtue of being the reigning U.S. Amateur champion.

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    Norman, who had been twice a runner-up by that stage, said on the eve of the tournament that the rookie possessed the game to carry off the Green Jacket that very Sunday.

    Woods climbed out of bed and went for a morning run before heading to the practice range with coach Butch Harmon.

    CHICKEN ON THE MENU

    Woods was the boy wonder with the world in his feet. His game had everything. Everything, that is, but the ability to have a second stab at that first Masters putt; to rein it back, grin to the crowds, and play it again.

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    Back went the putter, out came a short iron.

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    If there was any solace to be taken from that torturous misread moments earlier, it at least prepared Woods for putt number two.

    This time, as Woods later wrote in his Masters memoir, Unprecedented: "I made it. Great start to my Augusta career. Hit the green in regulation, and then hit my first putt off the green."

    STAYING FOR THE WEEKEND, SIR?

    Not every golfer who flunks Augusta's first hole lands a mega-money book deal.

    From that inauspicious start, Woods has proceeded to win five Masters titles, most recently last year when he ended an 11-year trophy drought at the majors, sealing his comeback from back injury woes and the scandal that upended his career.

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    In 1995, Woods shook off the dropped shot on that first hole of his Masters career, seeing his name up on the leaderboard briefly before signing for a level-par 72.

    A repeat in round two earned a stay for the weekend. As the lone amateur to make the cut - Trip Kuehne, Lee S James, Guy Yamamoto and Tim Jackson fell by the wayside - Woods was king of the Crow's Nest.

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    A CHAMPION'S INSTINCT

    Woods' stated goal of becoming "the Michael Jordan of golf" was gaining traction.

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    On his way to Augusta's second tee, back in 1995, Woods had pictured the response of a champion.

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    Woods signed off his maiden Masters with a visit to Butler Cabin, where he spoke of an intention to "go all four" at Stanford. Yet he would spend just two years majoring in economics, bagging a couple more U.S. Amateur titles before turning professional.

    "It’s a tough world out here," Woods said on that first Masters trip. “Right now, I’m only 19 years old and I feel it’s right for me to live it up a little bit. You’re only young once and college is such a great atmosphere and I really love it there."

    He even left behind a letter of thanks to Augusta National, that began: "Please accept my sincere thanks for providing me the opportunity to experience the most wonderful week of my life. It was fantasyland and Disney World wrapped into one."

    Woods added: "It is here that I left my youth and became a man."

    LEAVING, ON THE LATE-NIGHT FLIGHT FROM GEORGIA

    On the Monday morning after the Masters, Woods had a 9am history class. He reputedly made it there, taking a Sunday evening flight from Augusta to Atlanta and another on to San Francisco.

    If he found time to read the reaction to his performance, he might have stumbled on Sports Illustrated Jaime Diaz's verdict.

    "Although Tiger's excellent adventure was satisfying on many levels," Diaz wrote, "it was most important as a reconnaissance mission to lay the groundwork for many future trips to - and almost surely some victories in - Augusta."

    The first Green Jacket arrived just two years later, victory snared by a then-record 12-shot margin.

    And you know what? Woods made bogey at his first hole then, too.

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