Editorial: Professional sport an insecure occupation

Last updated 05:00 02/11/2012
baker stand
Kurt Baker on the fly, but he is not wanted by any Super franchise.

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OPINION: There has been a great deal written and said about the sallow state of the global economy and the instability of the job market.

There is little doubt these days that those who have a job count themselves lucky but remain sensitive and alert to the chilly, portentous breeze of restructuring and change that can ruffle the collars - blue and white - of workers in all industries of our modern economy.

When considering that concept of stability in the workforce, consider the plight of the professional sportsperson. And particularly those not considered at the top of their game and not among their sport's wealthy elite.

There were a couple of notable omissions when New Zealand's Super Rugby franchises announced their squads this week for the coming season.

And both highlighted the precarious nature of a job where an individual's personal ambitions can be subsumed and sometimes squashed by the wider needs of the team. Or the nefarious activities of someone else.

Neither Taranaki's Kurt Baker nor team-mate Scott Waldrom were wanted by any Super franchise for the 2013 season, despite both frequently hovering at or near All Blacks selection and the amber and blacks almost making the final of the national provincial championship.

Waldrom's rejection was a little easier to understand: he is 32 and faces an uncertain playing future because of upcoming surgery on a long-term foot injury.

But Baker's inability to secure a contract is surprising given his consistently strong performances at provincial and Super level over a number of seasons.

It appears he has paid the price for a quiet second half of the NPC after moving to centre to cover for Taranaki's injury-inspired shortcomings in the midfield, his attacking talent and vision lost in an unfamiliar role.

It may, of course, be that Super Rugby's coaches were already looking elsewhere, but certainly Baker's bending of the knee to his team's needs would have lowered the player from their eyeline.

And no doubt that has lowered his own financial prospects. Sevens may be able to dangle the opportunity for Rio gold in 2016 but it is a silver medallist when it comes to rugby salaries.

But sportspeople also know that their livelihoods can be undermined or ended by injuries, forces outside their control and the dubious behaviour of others.

Wellington Phoenix football defender Ben Sigmund will miss his side's next match because of a ruse from an opponent that was rewarded with a red card.

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Adelaide attacker Jeronimo Neumann has escaped punishment for an obvious dive that resulted in Sigmund being sent off. In cruel and bizarre circumstances, the real perpetrator gets to play again, the official who made the mistake is cleared and the victim is the one punished.

And as Sigmund will know, one game off in professional sport is all the incentive the guy on the bench needs to press his case and take the other guy's place. And his pay packet.

All of a sudden, 40 hours a week behind a desk can seem pretty appealing.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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