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Former athletes struggling with addiction and illness

By Mike Collett

LONDON (Reuters) - Almost a quarter of former sportsmen have battled with health, addiction or financial problems after retiring, according to a British survey published on Thursday.

More than 1,200 retired footballers, rugby union and league players, jockeys and cricketers were polled by the Professional Players Federation, an umbrella body of players' unions who interviewed a wide range of former sports professionals aged from 22 to 95.

Simon Taylor, the PPF general secretary, told Reuters some female jockeys may have been polled but 99 percent of the respondents were men.

The results showed that while 79 per cent said they were content with their lives, 32 per cent said they did not feel in control in the first two years after leaving sport.

Almost a quarter of them - 24 per cent - said they had suffered from physical and mental health issues or financial and addiction problems as they attempted to embark on second careers once their professional sporting days were over.

Many footballers have publicly struggled with their demons with former Manchester United and Northern Ireland great George Best the most notable example. Former England midfielder Paul Gascoigne's problems have also been well documented over the last few years.

Some 16 per cent said they experienced depression or "feelings of despair", 17 per cent had anxiety or stress issues and 16 per cent suffered a loss of self-esteem once they retired.

Brendan Batson, the PPF chairman said in a release accompanying the survey: "This important study emphasizes the challenges professional sportspeople face in retirement and it is crucial we help them adjust to life out of the spotlight."

Angus Porter, the chief executive of the Professional Cricketers' Association, which initiated the study, added: "It is important that we continue to provide support, particularly in the crucial two year period after they stop playing."

PARK BENCH

The most recent example of a former sportsman struggling to cope is Kenny Sansom, the ex-Arsenal defender who played 86 times for England and took part in two World Cups. His alcoholism was so bad he admitted to sleeping on park benches.

"When you come to the end of your career you obviously have more time on your hands and you drink three or four times a week, then it becomes every day, and at one stage I was drinking eight or nine bottles of wine a day, " he told Sky Sports News on Thursday.

"I was drinking to forget problems and I didn't mind sleeping rough because I'd get miserably drunk and then just fall asleep somewhere on a park bench," he added.

The PPF was organizing a one-day conference in Birmingham to help former professionals cope with the trials of life as they embark on a second career.

The research found that almost half retained a link to their sport in some capacity, and the average salary among those surveyed was between 30,000 pounds ($47,400) and 40,000 pounds, above the average national wage of 26,000 pounds.

($1 = 0.6324 British pounds)

(Reporting by Mike Collett, editing by Alan Baldwin)

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