Recently I met two accomplished sports people in minority sports. I was interested to know how they make a living out of them and why their sports were minority ones.
The first did not have to make a living as he was a successful equity trader and director of a bank. His sport was table tennis. Even near to 40 he said he would be in the top 100. I had a difficulty in naming more than 10 British table tennis players. He ascribed table tennis’s marginal status to its lack of television appeal. At the highest level it’s a highly technical sport, but I would have thought some of the smash shots and retrieval might make for interesting viewing. The Chinese dominate so the Olympics are not going to throw up a national hero as it did with Rachel Adlington or Sir Bradley Wiggins as the Chinese hoover up the medals.
My second sportswoman was an accomplished equestrian who competed in the world Grand Prix of show jumping. Such is my ignorance of show jumping, I had no idea that, like Formula One, the sport tours the world.
I do recall in my youth enjoying the Horse of the Year show and could still reel off the names: Alvin Schockermohler on Rex der Rauber, Captain D’Inzeo with with his military moustache and smart uniform and air; Bill Steinkraus the American and our own Harvey Smith.
It made for excellent viewing, commentated in the public school drawl of Dorian Williams – “Oh he took awff awfully”. The circuit ended with the double spread and water and the 7 foot wall called the puissance.
She does attempt to make her living from her sport and does so by importing horses, training them, riding them competitively, and selling them on. I had to admire her entrepreneurial aplomb as, in her mid twenties, she had 20 horses in a business with a significant turnover. A top jumper can be worth £4m and she thought she had trained and ridden one such, only to fail the vet. She said she saw Qatari show jumpers, grossly inferior in technique, on expensive horses that effectively – in every sense – carry them over.
In both cases the individuals have to maintain a high level of fitness, dedication and competitiveness. The saturation coverage of football in the sports pages and supplements means that, at best, such sports command just small paragraphs.