Part of excelling in a sport is affording it

Imagine there was something you loved. Loved doing. You lived for it. But it didn’t promise a decent income, not unless you became one of a handful of people globally recognised and celebrated for what you do. What would you choose – your passion or your pension?

Now what if your child was the person with the gift – would you be concerned for their financial future?

With the Olympics ending tomorrow and the news full of records being broken – including sponsorship and prize money dished out to the few who end up with medals – I too am celebrating the pure honing of human potential, but also wondering how the years of dedication at all costs (literally) affects their ability to earn, and be financially able. The majority don’t win, and don’t have money.

Clearly, if personal finance were an Olympic event, it wouldn’t be the 100-metre sprint – it would be the marathon.

The athletes might not be in it for the money – but they need ungodly amounts to succeed. Once it’s over, they must pay for life, every day. Good thing that Visa, the credit card company, launched a global financial education programme at the Olympics to help competitors take control of their financial future. Let’s hope it includes how to manage debt.

Perhaps not to the same extent, but funding is needed to focus on excelling at many things – art, music, theatre and more.

And with the absence of social funds to help, or patrons with deep pockets, how can the gifted afford to dedicate themselves to it? Grants and corporate sponsorship only kick in once you show promise, and that only happens for very few, after years of practice and training – which costs on two fronts. There’s the cost of being able to do your thing – equipment, lessons, trainers, getting there. There’s also the cost of lost opportunity – you cannot be earning if you’re doing something else.

It’s a tough one. Stories of how top Olympians competing in Rio have to work multiple part-time jobs, freelance, babysit and live in their cars to be able to afford to be at the games are rife.

I’m delving into this because sporting opportunities for children in the UAE are very high on the list of why many expatriate families like living here. But it burns a hole in family finances.

I know a budding young teen athlete who has already set national records in his home country and who is very much aiming for the next Olympics. Sport is his life. For him it has nothing to do with monetary reward. But it costs to keep him in tip top shape. His mother has forked out fortunes on coaching and competitions, not to mention the time she takes to ferry him everywhere, wait through training sessions and shout herself hoarse through heats. And it’s getting more expensive because these days she has to fly to venues rather than drive him there and back. He’s only 13 and the journey is just beginning.

It has taken them both a staggering amount of focus, time, and discipline – with money. His mother is ahead of him on the “how do I afford life” issue and is encouraging him to think more entrepreneurially. Some of the people who train him are former Olympians. Nothing wrong with that, but she’s looking for a bit more in the way of return on her investment – not for her sake, but for his financial wellbeing.

Another friend proudly shows me her daughter’s latest gymnastics outfit – exquisite and expensive – and a handful are needed for any one meet. Her daughter is nine, trains 5 days a week for hours a day, and incurs many other costs.

It’s an amazing thing to witness, what people are capable of. Some will go down in history books for their achievements, others for their life falling apart. If you or your child want to have the best chance at making it, whatever your definition, then being financially able – not worrying about bills being paid, life’s daily expenses being met, now and in future – is key to being on the fast track to success. At the risk of boring you, it’s about the simple stuff – watching where every dirham goes and being very focused on your priorities.

It’s a pity we don’t have social funds that enable the gifted among us to focus and excel without worrying about affording life. But we don’t. So get saving, and invent alternative ways of earning.

Speaking of which, are you sporty? I hear that Visa is hiring.

Nima Abu Wardeh describes herself using three words: Person. Parent. Pupil. Each day she works out which one gets priority, sharing her journey on finding-­


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