GAMBLING

Posted: February 3, 2014 in Interviews

During the late 80’s early 90’s the ARL (NRL) was competing for the Winfield Cup, in a move by Australian parliament the trophy was retired after the 1995 ARL season when cigarette manufacturer Winfield was forced to withdraw their sponsorship of the Premiership, following the Australian Federal Government’s introduction of the Tobacco Advertising Prohibition Act 1992 which outlawed tobacco advertising in sports in Australia. The public labelled this as ludacris yet in today’s society it would not even be thinkable to promote such a product.

Today I speak about the issues surrounding sport in terms of match fixing and gambling. It is not uncommon to see the names of betting agencies plastered on the front of some of the worlds most famous sporting jerseys, Real Madrid for one who receive a hefty €16 million annually from bwin.com, UK casino operator Genting Casino has joined with Aston Villa for two consecutive years as the main shirt sponsor of the club. With over 40 casinos in the UK alone they form part of Malaysia’s largest multinational corporation. As history will show Australian marketing, generally shadows the U.S and European firms and may only be a signature away from allowing our teams to promote these agencies alike. Already we see the likes of Tom Waterhouse, TAB, Sportsbet and many more who market their brands superbly. Now the issue is not with the agencies or the teams, it’s much bigger than that.
Gambling in Australia has yielded billions of dollars annually and is continuing to grow. As a 16 year old I watched adds on t.v promoting mobile phones so I went out and purchased one, today Sportsbet are offering money back betting specials, 16 year olds are buying into this. It’s portrayed as a novelty which in a lot of cases it is yet can develop into an addiction.

I write this blog with a touch of hypocrisy as I am an avid supporter of the horse racing industry, I own racehorses and I love the sport, I gamble, and I’m a holder of a Sportsbet account, the issue here is not what people choose to do, it’s what people are led to believe and/or how sports betting is portrayed.

Unfortunately when money is involved people can make decisions that could influence outcomes and be financially rewarding on both ends of the stick. I believe that I was unknowingly part of a fixed game of football, something I remember as if yesterday yet a game in which I would love to forget, it’s not what we as athletes sign up for. As an athlete you start out and develop a passion, when it becomes a job then move on.

For 99.9% of athletes influencing the outcome of a game is not an option, a lifetime of sacrifice and hard work is too much to lose for a short term gain and I’m proud to say that I have not seen nor heard of any suspicious activity in my sporting circle.

As for rugby league, well I find it typical that the media would publicise more stupidities such as banning mobile phones on game day for all players, how ridiculous, I for one would show my support to that with only one gesture, being one finger. Players have 45 minutes to warm up and prepare for a game, do you think the 15,000 people in the stands won’t realise if a star player is missing from the teams preparations, will you ban phones from the stadiums also to prevent last minute information from leaking? Or what about the coverage on television when they announce like they did during the pre game commentary of Newcastle Jets and West Sydney Wanderers that Emile Heskey was a late omission due to back spasms. Impossible to control. Integrity is the word that comes to mind when I think of the match fixing topic and we cannot question the integrity of athletes until found guilty, once or if they are, punishment must be harsh.

Players, clubs, agencies and the general public is not at fault here, it’s the government that is gambling. As they did in 1995 the federal government made a call and it turned out to be beneficial for the good of the game and the Australian people, what’s to stop them in doing the same in 2014?

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The Real Battle

Posted: January 23, 2014 in Interviews

Off the back of the news that Robbie Kruse may now miss out on the World Cup due to an unfortunate injury it got me thinking about how quickly we can fall from grace. By no means do I refer to Robbie or his ability to recover and come back bigger and better than ever as I’m sure that’s exactly his intension, but it’s never a certainty.

Long term injuries are an unfortunate part of any athletes career, it becomes a fight within ourselves as to who wins the battle… Athlete, or state of mind!

I have experienced long term injuries on a number of occasions, it can be a lonely road and very testing not only of your patience but also your mind. After sustaining a large number of soft tissue injuries post my ankle operation I lost sight of who I was and my ambitions faded, It became habitual to be on the physio table and my mind told me that I was weak, my body not built to be an athlete. John Kosmina was an advocate for being mentally tough, he once said that maybe I was afraid of succeeding, as a young and egoistic athlete I felt he was being harsh, yet the older more mature I am today I realise he may of been on the mark. You see, I was weak, not physically but rather mentally, I believed what people started to say that I was like a tampon; “In one week out for three.” I had set back after set back and could not tap into my potential often enough. I was riding on the wave of my reputation rather than building on the platform I had set. I let people’s opinions get the better of me, I lost focus on my journey and I was adamant that is was not my own doing.

A routine post match video session once occurred during my time at Adelaide United, 24 of my team mates, coaching and medical staff all present in the room as we watched the replay of our previous game, it was a copy covered by Fox Sports so we also had the commentary, Fox sports’ Andy Harper made a comment about me along the lines that I had struggled during my time in the A-League and through, I quote; “indifferent performances” failed to impress. I was embarrassed, completely belittled in my eyes right before the entire football unit. It confirmed what my fragile state of mind had been telling me yet I refused to look at the substance of those comments and became defensive. I used social media and ridiculed Andy, I held a grudge against him and how he went about doing his job. Valentines day 2010, I was sitting in a restaurant with my wife when my phone rang, it was Andy Harper, i was in shock, I knew why he was calling yet it was not the time nor the place. The following day I returned his call, he was irate to say the least although spoke in a diplomatic manner, I explained as to why I had ill feelings toward him and he understood how his comments may have pinched a nerve, but he rightly stated that he was doing his job, we spoke for quite a while and he followed the conversation with a text wishing me all the best for the future, I appreciated that he took the time to contact me and I believe it was a special moment as I was able to put the past into perspective. We cannot use people’s opinions or some punters comments as substance, an athlete needs to look beyond that and focus on themselves, let nothing in but positive feedback, believe in your own ability, life will always entail critics, and opinions are few and far between but actions need no words.

I think in my case reality is that my inability to master the mental demands of an athlete was the undoing of my progression. Today I am a better person, I’m secure with who I am, I’m proud of what I have achieved and I’m awfully greatful for what I have. Football taught me that in life we need balance, we need to have interests and hobbies that prevent us from consuming ourselves in one phase. By all means chase your dream, sacrifice is something that’s not negotiable, you will miss your brothers 21st birthday, or your best friends wedding, there may be times when your family want you close but your too far away, but when the time comes you will embrace your loved ones like you never felt you could, the face of your dad when you turn up unexpected, the warmth of the cuddle when you see your mum for the first time in 9 months….. Priceless.

I guess the message I’m trying to send in particular for young aspiring and possibly even current athletes is that sport at the highest level is 80% ability 20% mental, invest in the mental aspect and you will flourish, you will not be broken, live by the words of “Satisfaction through action!”

I wish Robbie the very best during his road to recovery, I’m sure he will give himself every opportunity to return stronger than ever, he will endure some tough times over the coming months but he along with any athlete coming back from injury must stay positive.

Athletes don’t have the best jobs in the world, in fact it’s one of the most difficult, your pushing your mind and body to its limits every day. Its the only line of work where you have no legal rights to prevent bullying or harassment, journalists are paid to harass you, punters pay to sit in the stands and bully you, the public frequently judging you on forums and to top it off you are being assessed daily by your boss, this can take its toll. The next time you judge a young footballer or any athlete for that matter, stop and ask yourself, Could you put up with this in a regular workplace?

#Respect

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Rocky Road

Posted: January 9, 2014 in Interviews

I have no doubt that any professional athlete will admit that throughout their careers they will have encountered more failures then triumphs, it is however important to note that ones perception of failure may just be a lesson learned to another. Of course the difference between those who use failure as an excuse to not reaching potential and those who overcome adversity time and time again to succeed is simple. It is our thought process.
Young aspiring athletes of today in my personal opinion are a far cry from where we were 20 years ago, by this I mean everything seems to be disposable in today’s society. My grandfather once quoted “when I was young we fixed things that were broken, today you people just buy new things.” Kids see this, and it is present in their attitude to sport.

REALITY:

Just imagine being the tender age of 17, your whole life’s ambition is to be a professional footballer in Europe. One day a phone call comes and it’s an invitation to trial for a club in one of the worlds premier competitions, what a moment, thoughts fly through the mind at a pace unimaginable. “I’ve made it.”
The day comes and your about to depart onward to your destination; alone, no mum no dad. The jet engines are roaring and your palms begin to sweat, not through fear, but rather the anticipation of what’s to come. Finally you arrive, a little tired but excitement is winning at this point.
Your first impression of the town is not what you imagined, old buildings, paved roads, it’s cold and dark. Your put into very average accommodation, training is first thing in the morning, you rest up and can’t wait to get out and produce the goods.

This is where things go pear shaped.

On arrival to the training ground most players don’t greet you, the language barrier is now an issue as your not sure where to change, what to wear and with whom to train, you are ushered into a small room, given shorts fit for a 12 year old, a T-Shirt that’s far too short, and to top it off the paddock has no grass, it’s been frozen over and is now slush, ankle deep. You feel like your in a dream, this is not what we are lead to believe, professional footballers are rock stars, royalty, not this!

Players are now looking at you as if your a different species, they feel threatened, your in their backyard now, your a small fish in a big pond. As for the coaching staff, your just a number, another trialist looking to impress, first impressions are important and body language key.

Let’s fast forward one year, you picked up that contract; not so lucrative like you thought though, €17,500 per annum to be exact, along with a bedroom in a house witch has approximately 20 other aspiring young footballers, all of whom sleep in bunk beds!

When I arrived in Empoli at the age of 17 this is what I experienced, this was reality, all these hurdles to overcome were something I was not prepared for.

My best mate, A-League winner with Sydney F.C and former Olyroo captain Jacob Timpano spent a week with me training at Empoli F.C back in 2005, the club was in the Serie A at the time. During his few days training he was robbed of his mobile phone and any money he had in his wallet, this occurred inside the dressing room whilst he was out on the training ground. This is a message from the locals, just a reminder that under no circumstances are they happy to accept that a foreigner may take his job.

This is the road that most professionals travel, it is never what we imagine because our thought process is warped to believe what we see. Harry Kewell, Tim Cahill, Mark Bresciano and Vince Grella to name a few have all endured this experience, imagine the mental strength you need to overcome this at such a young age.

It’s a long road, but you must take it!

I feel that too often people are led to believe that success is immanent when a talent excels at a young age, most like myself are not prepared for reality and the roller coaster of emotions that follow.

It is very important that young players understand that being successful in football is not based on one game, one goal or one moment, it’s being able to consistently produce solid performances over a long period of time at an elite level.

Do however understand that if you have the mental, physical and technical ability to overcome these hurdles the rewards will follow.

Remember, there are no shortcuts!

Strive not to be a success, but rather to be of value.

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My Story

Posted: December 29, 2013 in Interviews

As an athlete playing at the highest level, life is never as you would imagine. It is a glamorous lifestyle; traveling the world, making a lot of money playing the game you love. But football can be a very monopolistic sport. The pressurised world which the players inhabit can make them especially vulnerable to mental illness, in particular, depression and anxiety. Deriving from the opening paragraph of a recent article I read in regards to mental health in cricketers this statement is not only one of which is close to my heart but more common then we believe.

The Australian cricketers association have developed a program which has run since 2001 and is available to all male and female current players, those who have recently retired and past players on a case by case basis.

Australia Cricket Association national manager for player development and wellbeing, Ben Smith, works closely with players and acknowledges the need for a better understanding within the game. With this also comes a budget of up to $1,000,000 per year to spend on the awareness, prevention and support needed to educate and guide current and past players through these illnesses.

The question I ask and maybe in the 4 years that I have been absent from the game professionally things have changed but what is the FFA, A-League or any football federation for that matter doing for this cause?  Are they just acknowledging the issue and using players like myself who have gone out on a limb and spoken publicly about my struggles with life as an athlete and the pressures that follow? Is anyone being proactive in this area? Is money invested and if so where is it going?

The year of 2009 was my last as a professional footballer at the age of 23, I openly discussed with my previous employer and coach Aurelio Vidmar about my concerns although as the Asian champions league was approaching it was by no means a time in which the club was willing to forego cattle.I remember the conversation as if yesterday; a recovery session on Henley beach, maybe it was a turning point in my life which is why it sits in my mind as an endless thought.though to Vidmar it may just have been another conversation had with a disgruntled player.I do not in any way hold him nor the moment responsible for what then followed, I do however feel deeply apologetic to the fact that he, the club and medical staff were unable to understand, diagnose and treat the symptoms at hand!

The amazing ability to understand ones body is an art in itself, we tend to find ways to mask our problems rather then openly discussing them, in males it is a masculine forte to be in control at all times when in fact we can be far from it and even sitting on breaking point. The old saying “he’s like a duck on water” epitomises what I mean by this, he looks calm on the lake, but under the water his feet are turning a mile a minute. This is anxiety, this is the problem, this was me, along with over 800,000 Australians; and rising each year.

If my loved ones seen me curled up in my car trying desperately to fall asleep outside of an Adelaide hospital at 2am they would have not allowed me to continue my endeavours as an athlete.My mind told me I was on the verge of a heart attack, at least if it was going to happen I was at the front door of the hospital, this is what I did, this is how I thought, and to top it off, I had to go out onto Hindmarsh stadium the very next day and play 90 min in front of 12,000 fans. You be the judge, did I under perform or was I even fit to play? This is one of many tales i could tell, but my point is if it happened to me then it can happen to anyone, and statistics show it’s more than likely happening today.

5 years on i am now a proud husband and father of a little angel, I have been blessed with amazing people in my life which has allowed me to gain success away from football, something I would never have thought, but it’s through my support network that I was able to address my issue with anxiety and to date it’s pretty much non existent. Football did not cure me, football did not diagnose me and football was not the problem. People’s inability to understand and listen was the problem, through no fault of their own, but collectively as a federation, a team and a nation, we are all at fault myself included.

Where to now?

The FFA must invest wisely into a program that creates awareness, support and continued relationships with current and former players. If they come out and say they have done so then it’s failed because I along with several ex players have not had any contact with either the FFA or the PFA, in which I was a paying member of.

Secondly the PFA must act on this also, work with the FFA, players current and past, be proactive to prevent players leaving the game at 23 years old without fulfilling potential, help them into life after Football, liase regularly with all parties.

After all, it’s the players that the punters turn up to watch, it’s the players that shape the game, it’s the past players that contributed to what this beautiful game is today.Protect them, protect the coaches, defend your nest before the chicks fall!

Dez Giraldi