On the front foot – Dedicated to player welfare in sport
Welcome to issue III of your Player Care Newsletter
Welcome to On The Front Foot from Premier Sports Network. We are delighted to bring you another edition of bite-sized insights and real-life stories from the world of professional player care. Since our last edition, we have held another Player Care event at London’s Dorchester Hotel. So we have plenty of new material to share with you.
Checkout how Brighton and Hove Albion’s Sue Parris is using social media to spot player welfare issues and gain bang up to date advice on tax planning from event partners Smith & Williamson. And if there are burning questions that are not covered within these pages then get in touch and suggest a topics for the next Player Care event.
Player Care Manchester will take place on 3rd May, The Radisson Blu Edwardian Hotel.
2018 is going to be a big year for Premier Sports Network with three new events. Visit our website full details.
‘PLAYER CARE STARTS IN THE BOARDROOM’
A football club is nothing without its players, but in an industry dominated by short termism, the complex issue of player care has traditionally been an afterthought. Not anymore says Mark Catlin, the CEO of League One club Portsmouth. For him, ignoring player care is “a fool’s paradise” for any club.
Catlin (pictured above) told On The Front Foot that “Players are the major investment at all clubs and anything that improves their performance or general wellbeing simply has to be invested in.”
He also sees the value of investing in his player liaison staff and feels events like the Premier Sports Network’s Player Care conference play a key role.
“It is vital the relevant professionals at our respective clubs share information to keep improving and advancing player
care for us as an industry.”
May 3rd in Manchester will be the next time for Player Liaison Officers to get together and do just that.
‘Social media can help clubs spot mental health problems and addictions’
Helping players deal with the pressure of playing sport at the top level are becoming a greater focus for Player Liaison Managers at professional sports clubs.
Players are the major investment for clubs so anything that improves their performance and wellbeing has to be invested in. Mental health – an issue that was for many years buried beneath a layer of machismo in football – has been brought into the media spotlight with cases featuring high profile individuals.
Sue Parris, education, welfare and player services manager at newly promoted Premier League club, Brighton & Hove Albion believes that the well-publicised cases in football have “100%” helped others in the game to speak up.
“Everybody apart from a few lucky ones will have some sort of mental health concern in their life and footballers are no different,but because of their profession their expectations of themselves are very high. You have to take
time to listen to people.”
Parris explains how monitoring social media, “a relatively easy thing to do”, can point to someone who is struggling.
“A lot of clubs and bodies are wary of social media, but for younger athletes who are submerged in that world, it can feel quite natural to put something on there that could be a subtle sign that something is wrong.
“Social media can be a good outlet for expressing feelings as when problems are internalised, it can be catastrophic,” Parris continues.
“It’s very individual. but there can be small signs,” she says.
Those signs are not just limited to social media however, and Player Liaison Officers can play a big role in picking up problems.
“Typically, it is a change in behaviour – things like leaving the training ground earlier than usual or isolating themselves. Some people will start to avoid eye contact but remember that you’re never going to pick up every clue.”
For clubs around the world, it is about appreciating how a healthy mind can contribute towards better performances on the pitch.
“The emphasis on physical development in the game is astounding, but there needs to be as much investment in players’ mental and emotional development too, not just from a performance perspective, but as a club’s duty of care.”
‘Player care experiences from across the pond’
To the average European Player Liasion Manager player care in the NFL looks very unfamiliar.
Certainly most this side of the Atlantic will never have to think about how to protect players under attack from their President for staging peaceful protests. The troublesome area of concussion and head injuries may be growing here but it is has been a top priority in NFL for much longer.
Andre Collins, Executive Director of the NFL’s Professional Athletes Foundation told the recent Player Care event at London’s Dorchester Hotel that his organisation provides a service that is almost cradle to grave.
“Our commitment starts when they are college players,” he explained. “But most of our work is with the players and their families after their career has come to and end.”
Collins, himself a former player, helps players transition out of the game and into life beyond.
“I use my experience of leaving the game to try and create a sense of community and opportunity for former players.”
The challenges of life after a career in sport are familiar territory everywhere but the NFL’s approach is very practical.
“With the benefit of funding from the NFL and since 1990 we have granted over $10 million in financial, educational and medical assistance to former players.”
Andre was joined on stage by the NFL Players Association’s Director of Player Wellness, Nyaka NiiLampti. Her role focuses more on players during their professional careers where they will often move clubs frequently.
“Continuity in player support can be important for athletes,” she says, “even when they are moving across North America to a new franchise.”
She aims to provide a complete package for an athlete and his family but does rely on them for information.
“We look to help out spouses, but it all depends on the information a player is willing to provide us with regard to how far we can extend that help,” she said.
And as far as the ‘take the knee’ campaign is concerned, Colins says: “Our role is to protect the player. When they are wronged for doing something right we fight for that player and grieve for that player.”
Good tax advice avoids the impact of an early morning knock at the door says Smith & Williamson’s Pete Fairchild.
It will not have escaped your notice that football and footballers are once again in the sights of HMRC. Reports have circulated widely that the taxman has been carrying out dawn raids on a couple of Premier League clubs and nerves are no doubt jangling in various others.
Many in the sport will know that various schemes sold as ways to shelter earning from tax have been challenged by HMRC. What is less well known is that if and when (and ‘when’ is the increasingly frequent outcome) a challenge is successful, they can levy interest from the time tax was first due.
That can mean that tax avoided under a scheme set up 10 or more years ago may have ballooned by over 30%.
Public interest in the tax arrangements of the rich and famous has been piqued by recent newspaper revelations like the so-called Paradise Papers. These contained reference to several sports professionals or former pros which were seized on by those in the media.
Outrage over major corporations who use complex schemes to reduce their tax bills is certainly spreading and HMRC is no doubt under pressure to act. HMRC’s chief executive, Jon Thompson, has been quoted as saying that the most significant tax evasion risk in football is ‘the legitimacy of image rights’ arrangements, which can lead to players qualifying as non-domiciles and receiving payments offshore.
He went on to state that investigations are continuing into 43 players, 12 clubs and 8 agents.
Several clubs have been involved in making settlements and HMRC told the Guardian a year ago that it had taken over £80 million of additional tax from clubs, players and agents. Although this is a small fraction of the estimated £2.4bn paid in total by the Premier League it is a sum that is sufficient to hit individuals hard.
Those with longer memories will recall that all this has happened before. 10 years ago the City of London police carried out similar raids looking for evidence of financial frauds.
In the event none of the high-profile people involved was ever charged but that will provide no comfort this time as HMRC will be even keener to produce results which all goes to show the value of good professional advice.