Monday 5 December 2016

One of Ireland's Olympic stars explains how tough it is to be a full-time athlete on €12,000 per year

Published 26/08/2016 | 19:37

One moment of unscripted euphoria, of shirtless celebration, could have changed Scott Evans' life forever.

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Despite competing at two previous Olympic games, the majority of Irish sports fans met the Dubliner for the first time in Rio this summer.

More specifically, the majority of Irish sports fans were introduced to Evans while he was naked from the waist up, as he furiously celebrated becoming the first ever Irishman to win a badminton match at the Olympics.

It wasn't just any ordinary victory either. Evans beat German twelfth seed Marc Zwiebler for the first time in years. Evans' pride in victory is reminiscent of former tennis star Vitas Gerulaitis - nobody beats Scott Evans 10 times in-a-row.

Another win followed, against hometown favourite Ygor Coelho de Oliveira no less, as did another sensational celebration.

Evans' torso became one of the standout images of Ireland's Olympics, the badminton player's attempt at emulating Cristiano Ronaldo every bit as memorable as the O'Donovan brothers' hilarious interviews.

A loss in the last 16 followed but Evans' historic Olympic run - and his celebrations - could be the making of, not just his career, but also his life.

How?

Well, he currently lives off a €12,000 international grant from Sport Ireland, as he is based in Denmark.

Doesn't sound like much, does it?

Badminton stars not from Asia don't generally command much in the way of endorsement deals but Evans' colourful on-court behaviour is already opening doors for him.

"The media have been very interested so I think it is a great opportunity to do as much as I can for myself and my sport," he tells Independent.ie.

"I hope that there will be stuff coming along, I have three things already in place that would be fun things to do and be involved in."

Evans' hope is that the notice he got off the back of his Rio performances can catch the eye of some potential sponsors. At the very least, his reputation is already preceding him back home.

"I've got a lot of comments walking down the road [back in Ireland] like 'oh, I didn't recognise you with your shirt on' and a couple of police officers said to me at Annalise Murphy's homecoming to keep my shirt on walking down the street," he laughs.

The significance of any corporate sponsorships or endorsement deals cannot by overstated in terms of what it could do for Evans. Obviously, the money is nice but any cash injection could see his magnificent showing at the Olympics serve as a springboard rather than a career highpoint.

Evans explains how basing himself in Denmark is a huge help to his career - but a massive financial strain that impacts his preparation and training.

"In a way, I'm getting paid €12,000 to be a professional athlete and train 4-6 hours per day," he says.

"If I said to somebody who works a 9-5 job to take a €12,000 salary, there's not one person in Ireland who would take it. I'm very happy that I get twelve grand because without it I would have no chance of doing what I want to do. On the other side, I'm getting paid twelve grand and it's not particularly good, if you know what I mean.

"I get a bit of help but it's not easy. Because I live in Denmark, all the extra costs of physio and training, I have to cover that myself. If I was in Ireland, I would get all that looked after by Badminton Ireland and the Institute of Sport. I wouldn't say it is unlucky because I chose to be in Denmark.

"It is the best place in Europe for badminton. They have the best team, the best coaches and the best players. I get to train with the best players in the world and just like in boxing, you have to spar with better boxers. Better badminton players improve your level and that is why I moved to Denmark. There was no national coach and no full-time training centre when I moved 13 years ago."

Evans says he would love to play on until the next Olympics in Tokyo, by which time he would be 32, but is reluctant to go through another four-year cycle on a shoestring budget.

The three-time Olympian is hoping that he can put any money earned from his recent fame back into his career, so he would no longer have to opt out of physio sessions or cancel tournament trips because he is short of cash.

 "I don't want to be in the situation where I have to choose different tournaments because I don't have enough money to go to a certain one or I can't go to Asia for two weeks because my funding won't cover it," Evans says of his preparations for Tokyo.

"I'm very keen on doing this for another four years but the circumstances have to be right.

"Treatment-wise, because I have to look after that myself, sometimes I don't go for a massage or go get the treatment that I need because I'm thinking about my money because I have bills to pay and I am thinking about playing in tournaments. It is like that for people working 9-5 jobs, maybe they can't go out for a meal because they don't have the money, it is the same kind of thing for me. That shouldn't be the case but unfortunately that is the way it is."

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