Sports stars and reality TV: Recapturing the glory days.
THROUGHOUT their careers, sports stars sweat under the white heat of media attention for the fortune and glory that comes with winning at the top level.
And then suddenly, at a young age, it all comes to an abrupt end. What then?
In increasing numbers, many are turning to reality television in a bid to recapture the adrenaline rush, fame and money that they enjoyed during their playing career.
Sailing pioneer Florence Arthaud, retired swimming gold medallist Camille Muffat and boxer Alexis Vastine, who died in a tragic helicopter accident in Argentina on March 9 while filming Dropped, a survival reality TV show, were all at different stages of their lives and careers.
But they all had one thing in common that never leaves the top-class sportsman or woman: the burning desire to compete.
“They remain attracted by the challenge of doing something out of the ordinary after their career. It’s a physical and psychological need,” said Meriem Salmi, a sports psychologist.
Examples are legion: English cricketer Mark Ramprakash won British dancing competition Strictly Come Dancing – just ahead of rugby star Matt Dawson. The year before, fast bowler Darren Gough won it and gymnast Louis Smith has also lifted the show’s Glitterball trophy.
The British survival TV show I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here has also seen its share of sporting winners: from cricketer Phil Tufnell to motorcycling legend Carl Fogarty.
Across the Atlantic, NFL star Hines Ward won Dancing With The Stars, the US version of Strictly Come Dancing. Shawn Johnson, the former US gymnastics Olympic gold medallist, has appeared in the show and in Celebrity Apprentice.
Well used to training hard for a specific goal, they often succeed in turning their hand to something new where other celebrities make lack the necessary application.
“After their careers, sportspeople miss an awful lot,” said Frank Hocquemiller, an agent who negotiates deals between former sports stars and TV productions.
“They miss the media exposure they had when they were competing, as well as the adrenaline, the competition and the challenge,” he added.
Many sportspeople say it’s the adrenaline rush that drives them to compete in reality TV shows that are becoming increasingly extreme.
Even someone as famous as tennis legend Henri Leconte admits that scrambling to recapture former glories is a key driver of appearing on a reality TV show.
“When your career is over, we call it a little death. Afterwards, you want to feel the adrenaline of sport,” said Leconte, who appeared on a French reality TV show in 2005.
He admits that his appearance on that show was also an effort to “show people what I’m like on a day-to-day basis” rather than “the financial aspect”.
But there’s no hiding the fact that well-paid sportsmen, who suddenly find their funding dried up, often turn to reality TV for the cash.
“Money is a motive for many whose conversion to a normal life has not gone well,” said Hocquemiller.
“Reality TV brings back the glitter to sports stars who have lost it.”
For a series like Dropped, which the three sports stars were filming when they died, participants can earn between US$107,000 (RM394,000) and US$214,000 (RM788,000), depending on their fame and the amount of time they stay on the show.
This can be a huge amount for a former sportsperson, even ex-footballers who earn millions during their career but struggle to make it last after retiring from the game in their early 30s.
“We have examples of players who have made a very nice living but who find themselves in difficulty after 15 years in retirement,” said Philippe Piat, president of the World Players’ Union, which looks after the interests of footballers.
And sometimes, it’s just the idea of being part of a team again that attracts the former sports star to a reality TV show.
Seven-time judo world champion Teddy Riner said he would have gone to Argentina for Dropped if his schedule had allowed “just to be among fellow sportspeople.” – AFP