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Tuesday, 16 July, 2002, 12:47 GMT 13:47 UK
Counting the cost of sport
Brad Fittler, Graham Thorpe and David Beckham have all faced pressure within their sports

What is the world of sport coming to?

Hardly a week goes by without a top athlete pulling out of a premier international event or speaking out against their rigorous schedule.

On the face of it, their reluctance to play beggars belief.

Martina Hingis has not won a Grand Slam since 1999.
Hingis: Washed up at 21?

Here are men and women who get paid extremely well to do what they love, moaning about a job that the rest of us less-talented mortals can only dream about.

But there may be a serious underlying problem.

Cricket's Graham Thorpe is the most recent retiree.

He has asked the England selectors not to consider him for one-dayers in the future, saying his body can no longer take the demands of both the limited overs and Test game.

Thorpe's burn-out is just one of many cases that are starting to cause real concern.

From cricket to rugby to tennis, there are too many top athletes opting - or being forced - out of sport.


Cricket

So seriously are fears of burn-out being taken that cricket's 10 Test captains met at Lord's on Monday with the topic high on the agenda.

The problem is not just England's and Thorpe's.

New Zealand skipper Stephen Fleming warned that a massive shake-up of the international calendar is needed if many more players are not to drop out.

And the International Cricket Council admitted that today's volume of cricket had "gone about as far as it could go".


Football

The World Cup performances of most European nations suggested that their players were fatigued after overcrowded seasons.

Alan Shearer hung up his boots for England but still plays for Newcastle
Shearer chose Newcastle over England

We will never know how badly England's injury-beset build-up affected their chances, but football chiefs are now calling for a mid-season Premiership break in January.

This might not be a bad idea.

Two of England's most recent captains - Tony Adams and Alan Shearer - curtailed their international careers to focus on their clubs.

Millions hope David Beckham is not forced to make the same choice.


Rugby

Both codes are coming to terms with the delicate balance between international and club demands.

Brad Fittler, one of league's great captains, called time on his Australian career at the tender age of 29, and focused instead on his club rugby with Sydney Roosters.

He spoke of having the "world on his shoulders" during the 2000 World Cup and, one year later, the pressure outweighed the pleasure and he quit.

To address the burn-out issue, union bosses have come up with a suggested cap of 32 domestic games on all England internationals.


Athletics

Repetitive injuries are an occupational hazard in events like the triple jump, but there is evidence that over-zealous scheduling is costing other athletes dear.

Iwan Thomas has been blighted by injuries in recent years
Iwan Thomas is struggling to find any form

The decline of Welsh whippet Iwan Thomas is particularly saddening.

He won European and Commonwealth golds during two glorious months in 1998 and looked like the heir apparent to Michael Johnson over 400m.

Since then, Thomas has struggled to find anything resembling his best form, failing to reach the finals in July's AAA Championships.


Tennis

The mother of all burn-out sports, tennis has claimed its share of victims in the past and will continue to do so.

Child prodigies like Andrea Jaeger and Tracy Austin flaked before they reached their prime, and even great champions like Steffi Graf and Bjorn Borg had bowed out by the age of 30.

Now, the 21-year-old Martina Hingis, who joined the tour at 14, is struggling to keep up with the demands of the women's circuit.

She once looked destined to succeed legendary namesake Navratilova, but has not won a Grand Slam since January, 1999.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
400m runner Iwan Thomas
"It's frustrating running when I'm 70% fit"
See also:

16 Jul 02 | Cricket
15 Jul 02 | England
12 Jul 02 | Eng Prem
16 Oct 01 | Ashes Series
08 Jul 02 | Wales
16 May 02 | Tennis
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