John Eales Reveals: Life After Sport

Discovery presents, John Eales Reveals: Life After Sport.
The former Wallabies captain on transitions in the sporting world.

By Sally Rawsthorne

Ahead of next month’s Rugby World Cup in London, John Eales AM is back on our screens with Discovery for a new series of John Eales Reveals. John Eales Reveals: Life After Sport looks at elite sportspeople as their careers end and they transition back to living a normal life. Speaking to Mediaweek, Eales said that Life After Sport is good television because the topic is so interesting to many members of the public. “A lot of people wonder about professional sport. They correctly think that it’s this great world that they are in. But they also wonder about life afterwards, and what sportspeople actually do after their sporting careers end. It’s interesting, because different people definitely take a different approach to it, and the show looks as what makes people tick around the decisions that they make.”

Eales, himself the former captain of The Wallabies, said he drew on a lot of his own personal experience in making the show, which features the likes of Layne Beachley, Grant Hackett and Shane Webcke. “I definitely filter some of what I went through into the show. I had good experiences and tougher experiences, and not every transition goes well.”

He noted that the lessons of grief, loss and moving on encompassed in Life After Sport were applicable to everyone, not just former elite athletes. “One of the people we spoke to was Dr Andrew Khoo. He’s a psychiatrist who does a lot of work with post-traumatic stress that people have suffered from conflict, particularly war. He spoke about some of the similarities between what people face. When you’re in those moments with such an adrenaline rush, whether that’s playing sports or being in danger of your life, your body feels that rush. There are some physical and chemical reasons that people do what they do, both during and post sport. They are trying to recreate, in some way, that happiness. You can’t recreate the experience because you can’t play in front of 100,000 people again, but there are things that you can do with a similar chemical impact.”

“The show looks at what makes people tick”

As to the athletes that Eales spoke to – some of whom he acknowledged he’d known for years – he was unable to pick a single most interesting story. “All of their stories are quite fascinating. You’ve got different stories of people who retire and have a very successful transition in a lot of ways. Then there are others that decide to come back. For instance, Grant Hackett – following his journey has been quite interesting. So much of what he did post-swimming was a huge success, like the work that he’d done in financial services. Speaking with the people that he’d worked with showed how good he was in that space. Everyone had great things to say. And now he’s going back to really seriously pursue a sporting career again, and hopefully making it to the Olympics next year.

Lauren Jackson, on the other hand, is a bit of a different story. I’ve known her for many years through my involvement with the Olympics. She’s going through a process now, of trying to recover from an injury as she moves towards the end of her career. She has been the standout female basketball player of her generation in the world. The show looks at the challenges that she’s facing at the moment, as she also thinks about what life after basketball is going to look like. She’s doing women’s studies as university, and looks at the opportunities and some of the disadvantages that women have had in sports and otherwise. We look at her charity work and her studies. It’s really interesting to look at the different transitions, as well as some of the ingredients that make those transitions successful or otherwise,” he continued.

Life After Sport isn’t Eales’ first foray into television, having had a relationship with Discovery that’s gone on for a number of years. “We’ve looked at leadership in sport, the Rugby World Cup, the Australian-British rivalry, all quite sport-oriented things. I’d also done one called How We Invented the World, which deals with inventions that changed the world. My relationship with Discovery has gone on for about five years, and there have been a lot of really interesting projects that I’ve worked on. This one is particularly interesting,” Eales said.

Photo: John Eales with Lauren Jackson

>> John Eales and the Rugby World Cup

Kicking off on September 14, Fox Sports’ coverage of the 2015 Rugby World Cup will be spearheaded by Eales and a number of other former professional players including Phil Kearns, George Gregan, Rod Kafer and Tim Horan. The former players will be the only Australian team on the ground in the UK. Eales said: “I won’t be there the whole time, but I’ll be there at the start and going into finals. It’s been great to be involved with it. I’m not commentating, but focusing on pre and post-game.”

Asked who would win, Eales predicted that the team to beat is New Zealand, but there could be shakeups. “They are definitely the favourites, but the great thing about the rugby world at the moment is that there are so many teams capable of challenging them. If you look at our pool, it’s difficult. We’ve got England and Wales, and Fiji and Uruguay won’t be easy either. There are teams that are playing with conviction around the world, especially France and Ireland and South Africa. They are all capable of doing it. There are a lot of challenges.”

Eales acknowledged that Life After Sport was timed to be released ahead of the tournament, noting that 2015 has been a huge year in sport. “What we’ve found is that it’s always good to be releasing things around major talking points and events. With the World Cup there will be people doing new things, people retiring. This is a year with many World Cups – as well as rugby, we’ve got cricket and netball and women’s soccer. There’s a lot of focus on sport, and when people are thinking about sport – no matter what sport they are considering – they often also look at issues on the periphery of sport as well. Transition in sport is definitely an issue that is at the heart of lots of sports people.”

John Eales Reveals: Life After Sport premieres September 6 at 7:30pm on Discovery.

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