COMMENT:

In the same week the promise of one young Kiwi athlete was realised and rewarded, the outlook for countless more was called into serious question.

Rieko Ioane is an unequivocal success story in this country's sporting development system, having appeared destined for greatness from the moment he starred as a 17-year-old at the Wellington Sevens in 2015.

This week, the potential of that greatness was recognised in the form of a new four-year contract with New Zealand Rugby, a deal that made Ioane one of the highest-paid All Blacks and one that represented a departure for a union which in the past had valued experience above all else.

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But just as his contract was an exception, a commitment befitting the particular set of skills that few players aged 21 possess, Ioane is also an outlier when it comes to the security of his foreseeable future.

Many of his sporting peers get no such assurances, financial or otherwise. As New Zealand Athletes Federation boss Roger Mortimer explained, this country is playing "Russian roulette" with the welfare of many of its brightest talents.

The harsh reality is that a majority of those lucky enough to enjoy a taste of professional sport aren't so lucky after all. After spending their formative years with a sporting focus that is both admirable and myopic, most are chewed up and spat out and left with as many questions as accomplishments.

Questions like, is there life after sport? And without it, who am I and what am I worth?

After Michael Phelps expounded on the depression that plagued the twilight of his career, pleading for athletes everywhere to be provided with greater assistance in transition-ing back to the real world, Mortimer said such problems arose with sportsmen and women well before they jumped in an Olympic pool.

"It's all around identity foreclosure where boys and girls are growing up in sporting environments, where they sort of identify themselves as a sportsperson as opposed to a person that plays sport," Mortimer told Radio Sport. "The big difference being that they close themselves off to learning, development and other areas of their life.

"These can have dramatic consequences, which is exactly what Michael looks to have gone through. You've got young men and women who are anchoring their sense of worth through an association with a highly volatile, temporary activity."

It's troubling for anyone to have their self worth intertwined with their career, let alone when that career will in the best case scenario end before the age of 40.

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That group, those whose abilities provide a measure of wealth, can still struggle with the burden of approaching middle age with nothing to do all day. Ioane, no matter his eventual millions, may one day encounter such a reality.

The rest - and this is particularly true in New Zealand, where only a precious few will earn enough to avoid the need for a second career - can be left to face life with no skills, scant prospects and little hope.

"I don't think there's been much help for when an athlete retires," Phelps told the BBC. "When we're done it's kind of like we're just moved along or brushed aside because there's somebody else that's coming up."

So what can be done do to help? Mortimer complained of a "serious leadership void" in New Zealand sport and, when discussing overarching and centralised topics such as these, there is no avoiding an examination of Sport New Zealand.

Is too much attention applied to winning pieces of metal every two years, when for even the victor the shine quickly fades?

Would our sporting society be better served by spending more money on providing athletes educational opportunities outside of sport, knowing that's exactly where they will all end up?

A survey of 800 former British athletes this year found more than half had experienced concerns about their mental and emotional wellbeing since retiring.

Undoubtedly, numbers are similar in this part of the world. Some of those afflicted will be well known, many not. If nothing is done to alleviate the issue, maybe one day even our most precocious of rugby talents will find themselves in a similar position.