Sports progression on mental health is admirable – but we must not go too far

I've heard the usual ‘Flat Earth’ nonsense spouted around Naomi Osaka, Simone Biles and Ben Stokes, so let’s set a few things straight.

Elite sportspeople are generally attuned to their minds and bodies, and when they notice a chronic dip in performance, they look to identify and resolve the issue behind it.

In 1999, I became the first professional sports person to speak publicly about mental health issues … and got vilified for it.

But now, seeing these guys doing it in press conferences rather than having to hide away from the ‘pull your socks up’ brigade, it is clear progress is being made.

It’s not about shirking or bailing when the going isn’t good, it’s about acknowledging a serious issue which has the ability, especially in the spotlight, to turn into something dangerous.

We only have to look at those who have taken their lives or tried to, to see that smiling for the cameras and trying to show cartoon character-like invincibility isn’t the way to deal with mental health issues but that talking, honesty and understanding are.

However, we also have to be careful that interviews such as the one Tyrone Mings — who I like a lot — has given can cloud the issue.

He spoke of having to deal with supporters’ doubts about him as an England starter during Euro 2020, but that’s a normal sporting anxiety, just as it was when I didn’t sleep for two nights ahead of my England debut.

Waking up and saying to yourself, ‘I can’t do this any more, I want to throw myself off a bridge’, though, isn’t normal.

So while it’s great that these conversations are being had, please, sportsmen and women, do not confuse the younger generation that rational anxieties and fears of sport are mental health issues, because they are not.

Premier League needs change

With Manchester City’s Financial Fair Play dramas set to run and run, and with teams spending even greater sums with impunity, it’s time we did something to make the Premier League competitive again.

An easy solution would be that clubs can only spend their TV money on player transfers, wages and agents’ fees, money which, of course, will be based on their league position.

Likewise, Champions League or European money generally.

This would give us transparent figures we can account for, excellence on the pitch would be rewarded, and we wouldn’t have to ask whether creative accounting rather than great players are the real stars.

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As for any other monies, that could be put towards stadiums, training complexes, non-playing staff costs, solidarity funds or, God forbid, put in the bank for a rainy day.

Kane out of order

Harry Kane has been happy to trade on being ‘one of our own’ at Tottenham so he should have turned up to pre-season training yesterday and fronted up.

He should have told Nuno Espirito Santo, ‘I’ll train to get fit for the season but, as per my gentleman’s agreement with Daniel Levy and/or Jose Mourinho, I expect to leave the club’.

Not turning up was bang out of order.

Goalfest on the menu

We must expect the unexpected at the start of this Premier League season given clubs’ dreadful imagination and planning in pre-season.

It’s not as if they didn’t know we were in a pandemic and couldn’t have prepared themselves better for matchday one.

I expect at least one six or maybe even seven-goal game or hammering that first weekend.

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