I used to be very dismissive when I read stories about athletes who went from being millionaires to begging for handouts after their fame and fortune had gone.

I always argued that they brought this on themselves. If they were more careful with how they spent their money at their peak instead of wasting it on booze, drugs, flashy lifestyles and women, they wouldn’t find themselves in this situation.

But the more I grow and see things, the more I realise it’s more than just being irresponsible with money that puts so many sports stars in this position - granted wasteful expenditure is the main cause.

But just imagine having to work only for 10 years. In three of those years you were starting out so you didn’t earn much and the little you got went into trying to sort out the baggage you inherited.

You had to build your parents a proper home, send your siblings to school, take care of some of your extended family members and then start working to sort yourself out by getting a house and a dream car.

By the time you start making a lot of money you are already left with few years, and let’s not forget that these individuals are heavily taxed.

You then have to ensure that you survive at least 30 years with that money, if for instance you retire at 35 and you live until you’re 65.

It’s almost impossible and downright difficult. It needs sound investments and financial literacy, something that not many athletes can boast about. The machismo of the industry, characterised by boasting about who has the flashiest car, the most expensive watch and best designer clothes means that it’s hard to talk about your struggles openly, especially financial struggles.

I remember reading about a goalkeeper who signed for one of the clubs in the Premier Division in the same year he was doing matric. The club allegedly asked him to choose between them and school.

The choice was a no-brainer, he came from a family that wasn’t well-off, so football gave him money now, while school is something which would have benefited him in the long run. The stomach can’t wait that long.

Now imagine how that player would be like after they retired, as they don’t have anything to fall back on?

No one should be surprised when we read about that player in the tabloids talking about how they are struggling to survive, because it’s not just those who misuse their money who end up broke, it’s also those who aren’t adequately prepared for life after football.

A lot more needs to be done, not only to make players financially literate but to also create a good space for them to be able to survive after retirement.

The South African Football Players Union (Safpu) has a number of bursaries for players to further their studies, but only a handful of them are making the most of those opportunities.

The truth is that not every player who retires will end up being a coach or an analyst.

There are some who will have to get out of their comfort zone and do something different to what they have been doing for the better part of their lives. They won’t be able to do so if they don’t arm themselves with the necessary tools.

Once that’s in place you need someone trustworthy with sound financial knowledge to ensure your money is invested in the right places, where it will grow.

It’s not just footballers who struggle with this problem. An article in Sport Illustrated almost a decade ago revealed how and why players in basketball, gridiron and baseball - big money spinners in the United State of America - end up being broke.

A large cause of that were the divorces which hit their pockets hard after their retirement.

The article revealed that within five years of retirement an estimated 60% of former NBA players are broke, while 78% of NFL players are bankrupt two years after retirement.

These are shocking statics which hit home the most because these are millionaires who earn probably 10 times more than our highest-paid footballers make.

If millionaires can go broke in such a short space of time, imagine how quickly the money dries up for those who never reached those figures?

This is one of the biggest problems in sport. We need to do more in educating players and preparing them adequately to survive after the final whistle is blown.

At the moment very few are ready for that, which is why there are more of these stories to come.

Weekend Argus

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