BY all accounts British Airways is on its knees. Meanwhile, inflation reached a five-year low last week as an unforeseen consequence of chancellor Rishi Sunak's Eat Out To Help Out scheme; type the word “unemployment” into Google and you'll be inundated with stories about redundancies rising to their sharpest rate in the UK since 2009.

The full extent of the pandemic has yet to be measured in sport but the news is equally grim with lower league football clubs projecting financial ruin should the doors remain closed on matches for the foreseeable future and athletes of all types affected by the knock to broadcasting (sales of media rights), commercial (sponsorship and advertising partnerships) and match day revenues (ticketing and hospitality).

At football clubs in Scotland it has sparked some worried conversations, according to James Craigen, the Arbroath midfielder, who along with the former Scotland No.1 badminton player Kieran Merrilees, has just been employed by a company called Life After Professional Sport (LAPS), who specialise in helping former sportspeople make the transition to the workplace. If the financial downturn in sport continues apace, they may be in for a busy time of it.

LAPS have employed the two to extend their reach in Scotland and help provide athletes with a free, members-only platform that offers a range of services from a careers advisor to training, education and placements. With approximately 4000 members in the UK it is clear they are doing something right. These are nevertheless uncertain times.

Craigen, formerly of Partick Thistle and Dunfermline, says fears over the pandemic and the impact it might have on his own career persuaded him to go part-time at the age of 29 and he says other players have been in touch to discuss their options.

“It is a conversation I have had over WhatsApp and social media with other players a number of times. There is going to be a lot of players without work and if I can help any of these players using my work for LAPS, across different sports whether it is football, rugby or individual sports, that's something that I'd like to do. At this moment in time, players are still clinging on to the fact that the season's not started yet and there might be a bit of hope that the phone might ring but the numbers don't add up with how many teams are running smaller squads, the space is less. They don't equate to the amount of players out there, that's the simple maths of it.”

The good news for those joining the queue is that Craigen and Merrilees say sportspeople have the ideal mental make-up for making the transition into the workplace, having spent much of their lives applying and honing the basic principles required to be successful employees. Yet, he says most have no real concept of just how employable they are. Take footballers for example, Craigen points out that a large proportion of them already know how to deal with speaking to chief executives, large numbers of people or the media. That's a valuable commodity, he says.

“When I am picking up the phone to speak to businesses I can relate that back to negotiating bonuses with the chairman or something like that or when I am asked to go and speak to members of hospitality and a microphone gets thrust on you and they are asking questions. Picking up the phone and speaking to people that you haven't met before is a skill in itself. I think I have transferred that skill from football. Time management is another [skill]. In football, you've got to be somewhere at a time. If you are not there you are fined. Being organised is something that I've got to bring into this role as well. Not to mention, I'm still at Arbroath so when I finish this job I've got to jump in the car to be at training on time or Dick Campbell [the manager] won't be happy.”

So, are there specific roles that suit former athletes? Both men say no and that for retiring sportspeople the sky's the limit.

“Before Kieran and I started, the company placed a zookeeper, for example. We have a connection with St James's Place in the financial industry, property companies are very popular as well, recruitment agencies, sales, people are looking at all sorts. There really is a wide range and here at LAPS we have contacts with lots of sectors and industries.

“They have lived the dream and that's all they have done so you want them to be going to do something that is not quite as good. You want them to do something they are passionate about after sports. We want them to be happy in their roles.”

Craigen still plays in the Championship for Arbroath but he has had one eye on life after football for some time.

“You know that your career is not going to last for ever. As you get a bit older and you hit your mid-20s it is in the back of your mind. I was full-time up until this season so using myself as an example, my mindset was 'what can I do to enhance my reputation or career out of sport?' I was always thinking 'what are the extra steps that I can take?' At 29, I was at the age where I was starting to think more seriously about it so I took the steps and [as a result of] the pandemic, it seemed like the right time to me to go to a part-time capacity in football and focus on a [future] career as well.”

Merrilees called it a day two years ago, at the age of 28, some way short of the sell-by date for badminton players. A three-time Commonwealth Games representative and eight-time Scottish champion, it had always been his ambition to crack the world's top-10, but injuries meant No.51 was the highest ranking he reached. Eventually, he decided he needed a change of scenery. Nevertheless, he was daunted about what would happen next and imagines there will be plenty of individual sport athletes in a similar boat.

“I think there has probably been a lot more retirements due to the Olympics being postponed just the major sporting events from each specific sport and maybe, yeah, there could be some funding cuts within some sports because of this. That could lead athletes to retire maybe before they had anticipated so that's why, at LAPS, we are trying to help them with that transition and make it as smooth as possible because it can be quite a difficult time.

“I was part of the GB Olympic programme from the age of 19 until I was about 25 and then I finished the last few years in Scotland. I just wanted to move home, I missed home. I had been away for that long and I just wanted to try a different training environment. The GB set-up down south was absolutely brilliant, but I just felt I myself had gone a bit stale and I wanted to try something a bit new.”

“Athletes are incredibly valuable in workplaces and the skills they have developed throughout their sporting careers would definitely put them at an advantage and also be very attractive to employers. Of course, there will be some jobs that our members will need training in but that's what they have done their whole lives – they can be trained up, it's nothing new for them. It wouldn't be something that an athlete would shy away from – they are always having to set new goals.”