When an evening out on the town makes the 10 o'clock news, it must have got rather out of hand.
England cricketer Ben Stokes has been the centre of headlines throughout the week, after being arrested on suspicion of causing actual bodily harm in the early hours of Monday morning. The all-rounder was released without charge but remains under investigation, while his team-mate Alex Hales has been providing evidence about the brawl.
Footage of Stokes' alleged involvement in the incident has been poured over during the last few days. A variety of opinions on whether the England vice-captain and potentially key player could be involved in the upcoming Ashes series in Australia have been mused over. For now, both Stokes and Hales are not being considered for international action by the England Cricket Board (ECB).
Surprisingly, it was not the only story involving an athlete’s night out to make the news this week. Manchester City striker Sergio Aguero was involved in a car crash on Thursday night, with the Argentine stating the taxi he was a passenger in made a wrong turn and crashed into a pole.
The crash ultimately saw him suffer a broken rib, which is expected to see him be unavailable for the next month.
Both incidents, although vastly different, have caused debate about the lives of athletes outside of their sport. The primary argument has concerned whether the athletes should have even been in the position to been involved in the first place.
Stokes’ incident came three days before both he and Hales were due to feature in a one-day international match. Aguero’s occurred around 48 hours before he was likely to be involved in a key Premier League match against one of Manchester City’s title rivals Chelsea. While his case is certainly unfortunate, people have questioned why he was in Amsterdam watching Colombian singer Maluma so close to a match.
In both cases, the organisations they represent have suggested they had no problem with the athletes enjoying an evening out.
While the timing of the evening’s might not have been smart, I agree with the approach of treating them as adults, rather than enforcing strict rules.
For one, the only reason we know about their evenings out are because they have gone wrong. Certainly, Aguero did not consider it a problem when he posted a photo with Maluma at the singer’s concert prior to the car crash. He could have just as easily have been involved in an accident staying local in Manchester.
Had nothing occurred, we would have no reason to be considering whether they should have been out. It seems quite likely athletes, like the vast majority of young people, would be socialising frequently. We just do not happen to know or care about it, until the very low percentage of times it goes wrong.
Clearly, the athletes have put themselves at risk when heading out in the evening, whether that be affecting their performance in the coming days through possibly drinking alcohol, or merely disrupting a routine, as well as being a high-profile presence that could be targeted.
England’s record goal scorer Wayne Rooney has often been criticised in this regard. Many have questioned his dedication to his craft in comparison to his former team-mate Cristiano Ronaldo. It has been suggested that Rooney, despite his huge accomplishments, has not followed a lifestyle that has enabled him to fully fulfil the potential he showed at the start of his career.
The subject was probed earlier month, when the now Everton striker was banned from driving for two years after pleading guilty to drink driving.
It seems obvious to me that it is the athletes’ choice on how they wish to live their life and the dedication they have to their craft. Ronaldo has clearly been rewarded for the drive and commitment he has shown to making himself the best football player he can be.
However, there has to be scope for sporting stars to be able to unwind when not competing. Regarding cricket, the point was made that an England player could, in theory, be involved in matches from late October to early April.
Given the England team would be abroad for the duration of the period, it would be extreme if they were not allowed out during that period. Clearly, if they would be allowed to take some time off when on tour, they obviously would be permitted the same privileges at home.
Much was made of the England football team’s complaints about their base for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
Dubbed “Camp Capello”, after their Italian manager, the apparently luxurious complex used to prepare for matches was viewed as isolated and blamed as a reason for poor performances. Rooney claimed he was “bored” at the base, while others had dubbed the fenced-up complex as a “prison camp”.
The decision had largely been taken due to the perceived distractions which had occurred for the team at previous tournaments.
The most prominent example came prior to Euro 1996, where the England team had enjoyed a night out in Hong Kong. A drunken evening, featuring the now infamous ‘dentist's chair’, caused much embarrassment for England in the build-up to hosting the European Championships.
Despite these examples, it seems likely that nations other than England will have been affected by the two extremes - the perceived harsh-line approach to free time and giving athletes full freedom.
The latter seems the most normal approach in my eyes, with the responsibility placed on the sport stars' shoulders. While the ECB will undoubtedly be frustrated one of their star players has appeared to have been involved in an unsavoury incident, their approach should remain the same.
It strikes me that if you are unable to trust your athletes to live sensible lives off the field of play, how can you trust them to do the same on it?
Athletes are humans like the rest of us and need time away from their day to day work. It should be up to them whether they put themselves in harm’s way.