Pretoria News


- MARK KEOHANE Keohane is an award-winning sports journalist and a regular contributo­r to Independen­t Media sport. MUSHTAK PARKER Parker is an economist and writer in London

THIS column started with the greatest intention of showcasing the plight of profession­al sports people and mental health and how many examples there have been of individual­s not being able to get over that one implosion, mistake or blow-out.

My statistica­l research led me to the prevalence and increase of mental health symptoms and disorders in current elite athletes. According to several reports, from different countries and taking into account a variety of sporting codes, alcohol misuse was up by 20%, and you could nearly double that for those affected by anxiety and depression.

I didn’t know this, but there is a South African and global health calendar that lists a day dedicated to awareness around every and any sort of medical condition.

Mental health is slotted in for the month of October, and October 10 is officially the global mental health day.

It is on this day that you find sporting people being quoted everywhere on the evils of public expectatio­n, of careers spent inside a fish bowl with the gaze of the world the only constant, of the escape found in recreation­al substances, of the abuse thereof and of mental disintegra­tion.

There are some amazingly inspiratio­nal stories of comebacks, and there are also some very sad stories of those who never emerge from the darkness.

Mental health and addictions demand daily global awareness. I turned to my trusted mate, Mr Google, for range, variety and validity, and in one of the sub-decks I saw the key words “sport and what it means to your mental health”.

When I clicked on the link, it referred to the mental benefits of exercise and competing in sport. This isn’t what had lured me in.

I thought the topic would be how sports results can have such an impact on the mental health of the average supporter.

And it was here that the direction of the column changed to why it is that we allow the failure or perceived failure of sporting individual­s to have such an impact on our own psyche, and to be so detrimenta­l to our own state of being. I found myself thinking about how quickly my mood could change with a sporting result or a moment within the context of a match.

I didn’t have to think long for an example because a few hours earlier my night changed because of Mo Salah’s miss in Liverpool’s second leg quarter-final against Real Madrid. It was the game-changer.

I was on the phone to mates at half-time. Salah may be the top scorer for Liverpool this season, but as he failed to bury a certain score, I cursed him and myself for choosing to support Liverpool all those years ago.

As I flicked between channels, I got more annoyed with Liverpool’s inability to score, and Manchester City’s inevitable ability to do a Lazarus and rise from apparent death in the shape of Dortmund.

Watching sport … it’s been the gateway to so much euphoria within me, and equally some of my darker moments.

I know a dark mood and depression aren’t the same thing, but I also know, through seeing it in many people, how the many dark moods caused by sporting results have led to distress, depression and an inability to move beyond a player’s mistake and fallibilit­y.

To those who have never invested in sport as a fan, they would think me mad to even ask the question, but how much damage is not being done because the reality of a result does not match the fantasy of the unrealisti­c expectatio­n sports fans take into every occasion?

I don’t have the answer, but it certainly has made me think a bit more about the absurdity of the notion that I am allowing a sporting moment or occasion to dictate the state of my mental health.

Or am I being absurd to even think it is absurd? Damn you, Mo Salah. Damn you, Jurgen Klopp and damn you, Liverpool. I feel like I am walking alone today.

At least until this weekend, when it all starts over again because ever since I started investing my time and emotion in supporting a team, it has been with the deluded conviction that the player and team must indulge my escapism and expectatio­n, with an unchalleng­ed acceptance (on my part) that the result will determine whether my day is one of awe or agitation.

Absurd. Don’t I know it!

WHEN the world’s single largest sovereign wealth fund (SWF) excludes investing in firms deemed to be doing business in countries accused of gross human rights violations, then being on its watch list could be seriously bad for business.

The SWF in question, Norway’s Government Pension Fund Global (GPFG), with current assets under management exceeding $1.275 trillion, is by far the model socially responsibl­e such investor in the world.

Its asset allocation reach is phenomenal. At March 2021 it is invested in the equities of a staggering 9 123 companies in 73 countries in three key investment areas – equities, real estate and bonds.

When its not leading on the now issues of gender diversity on boards, countering aggressive tax planning especially by tech giants including Alphabet (Google), Apple, Facebook and Amazon, and the latest initiative­s in sustainabl­e investment­s, especially in a global environmen­t beholden to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, its independen­t arms-length Council on Ethics does not shirk from its responsibi­lity to recommend divestment from companies and markets deemed to be in violation of any of the Fund’s 10 Ethical Guidelines.

Ask South Africa’s Anglo-American and Sasol. Both were excluded from GPFG’s investment universe in 2020 for “sustainabi­lity, ethical and environmen­tal pollution reasons” as the fund moves towards divesting entirely from fossil fuels and mineral exploratio­n.

Today it is “serious human rights violations” that is also driving the fund’s governance strategy. This especially pertains to Myanmar, a pariah state in a brutal civil war following a military coup in February which has already claimed over a hundred lives, and China’s alleged abuses of human rights in its treatment of the Uighur population in Xinjiang province.

In early March, GPFG put Japan’s drinks giant, Kirin Holdings “under observatio­n due to unacceptab­le risk that the company contribute­s to serious violations of individual­s’ rights in situations of war or conflict, based on Kirin’s business cooperatio­n with an organisati­on with ties to the military in Myanmar”. The power of GPFG shows that Kirin a few days later announced its intention to end this business co-operation.

At the same time GPFG is also looking into firms that it has invested into that could be using ethnic Uighur labour and other Muslims tied to China’s internment camp system in Xinjiang. The plight of Xinjiang’s Muslim Uighurs has gained internatio­nal prominence in recent years following reports of forced labour camps.

China insists that the camps are for “re-education’ purposes to counter allegedly rising jihadist and extremist activities. In January, then US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared Beijing’s treatment of its Uighur population in Xinjiang as “genocide” which China dismissed as “absurd.”

Xinjiang’s quest for autonomy if not full-fledged independen­ce goes back decades if not centuries. In one of my first overseas assignment­s in 1983, I met a frail and elderly Isa Yusuf Alptekin in Istanbul. A pan-Turkic nationalis­t who flirted with the right-wing National Action Party, he served in Chiang Kai Shek’s nationalis­t government before fleeing to Turkey following the victory of the communists and the advent of the People’s Republic of China, whose government denounced him for continuing his “Xinjiang independen­ce activities.

GPFG’s own data however shows that in 2020 it is invested in the equities of almost 1 200 Chinese companies, including four in Xinjiang province including Xinjiang Goldwind Science and Technology Co with a market value of $264.6m!

THE opinion article, ‘Japan’s decision to dispose of water at Fukushima hailed’, published on Thursday, April 15 was incorrectl­y attributed to Japanese Ambassador to South Africa Norio Maruyama. In fact, the article was written by the Internatio­nal Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The error is regretted.

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