Fri | Apr 3, 2020

Tanya Lee | Bolt's bold football move

Published:Friday | August 10, 2018 | 12:00 AM
Usain Bolt walks off the field after participating in the Bob Marley One Love Charity Football match at the National Stadium in 2010.

So we've heard it before, the world's greatest athlete is choosing to play another sport, after retirement, at the age of 31. It was done by Michael Jordan in 1994, when he switched from basketball to baseball and now, it's being done by Usain Bolt, who announced his "indefinite" trial with Australia A-League club Central Coast Mariners this week.

In explaining his move to football in Australia, Bolt has said, "I am going to come here and do my best. Watch out! I am on my way. Remember, I don't think limits".

Bolt, an eight-time Olympic gold medallist and the greatest sprinter in the world is seemingly on a quest to become a professional footballer. We've seen him on trial stints for various teams and haven't quite taken it seriously, maybe because most of those teams are coincidentally sponsored by Puma, just like Bolt.

But could Bolt really be serious about football? Throughout his athletic career, he always flirted with the idea of playing football professionally and has repeatedly expressed his love for the sport. During an interview when he announced that he was going on trial with Borussia Dortmund, Bolt rubbished any idea that his football aspirations were a joke by saying, "I am going there to be serious."

Now, I understand the skepticism being shown to Bolt as he tries to become a professional footballer. Not many athletes thrive doing multiple sports. Michael Jordan failed miserably at baseball and eventually returned to basketball and winning championships. AC Milan and Italy legend Paolo Maldini took up competitive tennis after retiring from football, but he had a less-than-stellar debut, losing 6-1 6-1. Luckily, he spared us all and hasn't picked up a racket since.


Success After Transitioning


But some athletes have actually achieved success after transitioning to a new sport. Bo Jackson is often considered one of the greatest American athletes of all time based on his all-star successes in both baseball and American football. Lauryn Williams was a successful track-and-field athlete, winning gold medals at the Olympics and World Championships for the USA. After retirement, she pursued bobsleigh and won a silver medal at the 2014 Sochi Olympics. Jamaica's Warren Weir now has multi-sports medals as well, having won bronze for Jamaica in the 2012 London Olympics and a recent Bronze medal for the black, green, and gold in the recently concluded CAC Games. Word is, Weir has already garnered interest from a few rugby leagues globally that are seeking to benefit from his speed.

As for Bolt, I think this dream of playing professional football is farfetched and one that I still struggle to take seriously. His footballing skills are not on par with elite footballers globally, and at the age of 31, that is essentially when many start to experience some form of decline. Neither time nor skill thus seems to be on the side of the big man.

But what I believe Bolt deserves, based on the immense joy he has brought to sports fans globally, is our support. He deserves the benefit of the doubt for attempting to achieve this dream despite the limited possibilities.

Certainly, it isn't easy to attempt a new goal with all eyes on him globally, but he has stepped into the ring once again. That is the stuff dreams are made of, and if he achieves any level of success, his next biopic should be a good one!

As a marketer, I can see the value a global icon like Bolt would bring to a growing football team. He would fill stadium seats, attract a new fanbase and sell lots of jerseys. Maybe the next step would be for him to get his football to a level where he would be of benefit to the Reggae Boyz. Certainly, Usain Bolt would bring eyes and sponsorship opportunities to a team that could use a proverbial shot in the arm.

The chief executive officer for Central Coast Mariners, Shaun Mielekamp, says the thing driving Bolt's trial with the club is "his own personal passion, his own personal belief, and his own personal desire".

We've heard Bolt say it many times before, "I don't think limits". Maybe, just maybe, we shouldn't either! One love.