In the second part of our interview with Ewan, we ask cover the challenges facing professional sportspeople, the support that’s in place and what more that could be done.
Do players get enough advice in preparing for the end of their rugby careers?
During my career and the time immediately after I finished playing, there was almost no career advice available. It needs an effort from everyone in the game if they’re really going to make a difference for everyone, especially with the expertise required when tackling serious problems like depression.
Rugby League Cares are doing some fantastic work within the game. They are a charity who only really started about 4 years ago. They deal with player welfare, run a benevolent fund and offer grants for career development and gaining qualifications.
What do rugby players need help with?
Anyone who relies on a sport to pay their mortgage needs to get rid of it ASAP. There are a lucky few who can make enough from sport to live off, but the vast majority of even good international sportspeople will need to keep earning while adjusting to big drops in salary at a time in life when people in business are just starting to fulfil their earning potential.
They have to adjust their spending habits pretty quickly, as the amount they might pay for a holiday with their partner one year could be their entire disposable salary the following year. It’s not an easy process to go through.
There is often no compulsory insurance and, even if players do insure themselves, some policies can be pretty poor. Injury or illness can happen at any time, so guys with young families in particular need to be covered correctly.
It’s not just rugby players; it applies to all sports people. I read recently that 3 out of 5 footballers end up in financial difficulty or bankrupt within 5 years of finishing playing. That’s a pretty awful statistic as the money they earn in the Premiership and Championship is more than enough to get them in an unbelievably strong financial position.
The advice is simple really. Regardless of the level at which you’re earning, you need to start planning for your life after sport. An exit plan is essential and should include getting qualifications behind you and getting work experience under your belt, even if you’re just ruling things out.
I try to get professional sportspeople in a position pre-retirement where their debt, including the mortgage, is either cleared or seriously reduced as well as having sufficient savings in place to supplement the inevitable drop in salary. This gives them the breathing space they require for a number of years whilst they adjust to their new life away from professional sport.
Beyond the work you do, what else can be done?
Huddersfield University has compiled 3 years of injury data for RL and that is helping us to work with insurers, as there are not many with good, bespoke policies for Rugby League. Obviously it is a high risk sport so getting an insurance company to take on the risk can be a tough challenge in itself.
There are guys on high salaries who have literally no financial plan or career-ending injury insurance in place. Given that their salaries could dive by 90% at any given time, it is a precarious state to be in.
Most of us didn’t have a clue what to do with our money when we were young, even if we knew we should be doing something. With Rugby League Cares, club player welfare officers and other ex-pros willing to help guide the younger players, there is more support available now than ever before.
More and more ex-players are getting involved with the RFL and Rugby League Cares and they are going into clubs, giving workshops on the likes of gambling, drugs, mental health, etc. and it’s far more powerful coming from someone who has had the same experiences.
So what’s next for you?
I just want to keep developing and building my business. I enjoy how varied the work is and find the people I meet absolutely fascinating. I can be with a wealthy businessman one minute and a self-employed guy or young pro-player the next.
I was very lucky with the help I got from friends and people I met while playing. By the time I retired, I was on track to work in the financial world and I’ve landed a job that I love to do. I’m keen to repay the sport for helping to get me to this point.
Enabling players to improve their quality of life throughout their careers and for the often 40+ years they might have after retiring from rugby is something I can be proud of and I’m excited by what the future will bring.