IT’S easy to assume athletes lead a charmed life. In many respects, this is true. In particular, for those at the top, the fame and fortune they enjoy can often make it difficult, impossible even, to empathise with any suffering they claim to be enduring.

The discomfort of quarantining when travelling overseas to compete? Tough luck. The stresses of being questioned by the media in the immediate aftermath of a loss? Ah well, all part of the job.

And the constant scrutiny? The millions of pounds in the bank should make being under the spotlight easier to handle.

The lack of compassion towards top athletes’ struggles is understandable. I’m guilty of it myself at times.

It’s hard to feel bad for someone who has more money than they know what to do with and who leads the kind of privileged life most can barely even imagine.

But it’s becoming clearer just how difficult life can be for certain athletes, and by certain athletes, I mean female athletes.

Last week, American tennis player Sloane Stephens posted screenshots of a few of the 2,000 messages she received after losing to Angelique Kerber in the third round of the US Open. 

Amongst the torrent of racist and sexist abuse were threats of rape, kidnap  and death.

“This type of hate is so exhausting and never ending,” Stephens wrote on Instagram. “This isn’t talked about enough, but it freaking sucks.”

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She is not unique in receiving these kind of messages. Most, if not all, high-profile female athletes will have been the subject of similar hate at one time or another.

Before it’s pointed out, I know male athletes are targeted too. Indeed, only last week, Rio Ferdinand spoke to a Parliamentary committee about the racist abuse black footballers are subjected to. 

But female athletes have it on another level and social media has, of course, amplified this a 100 fold. 

Even before the abuse starts, they are scrutinised for merely existing. Their clothing choices, their body shape, whether or not they smile enough – the list goes on.

And that’s before the threats and misogyny begin. 

Few would argue the hard-core abuse is acceptable. And while that is more immediately distressing, the constant judgment of their every move, much of which is entirely unrelated to their sporting performance, is exhausting.

Mental health is being talked about far more often within the sporting sphere these days, yet there remains a sense that with enough money and fame, you become immune to such vileness.

Few female athletes would concur. 

Top-level sport has become a toxic environment for female athletes, and something must change to stop the rot. And soon.

AND ANOTHER THING . . .

There is nothing quite like the feeling of a major, and I mean really major, sporting event approaching.

The Olympics and World Cup are the top of the tree. 

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The build-up and excitement begins months, if not years, before the first moment of competitive action. That is has been four years since the previous staging of each event only heightens the anticipation. 

Nothing else in sport matches the hype; in fact, nothing else on the planet matches it.

And so, the proposal from FIFA to stage the World Cup biennially should come as no surprise, particularly as the fortunes the event brings into the governing body are astronomical.

However, the backlash to the proposal was immediate, and fierce.

UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin said the proposals could “kill football” and the Premier League joined 36 other European leagues in signing a statement stating they were “firmly and unanimously opposed”, but it is the damage that could be done to the remainder of the sporting world that would be the gravest consequence of doubling the frequency of the staging of the World Cup.

As it stands, the Olympics and Paralympics go ahead unhindered by any significant competition for the public’s attention.

A World Cup being held in the same summer would change that overnight.

Sebastian Coe, who is head of World Athletics and a member of the International Olympic Committee, confirmed there were widespread fears across summer sports that they could be smothered as a result of a biennial World Cup.

“I can see no good reason for it,” he said of FIFA’s plans. “Summer sports are protective about the landscape as it’s hard enough for them as it is to grab space in the traditional or digital media. And a biennial World Cup will inevitably start clashing with the Olympic Games.

“My gut instinct is that you can keep cramming stuff into the calendar if you really want to, but less is more sometimes.”

Clearly, he is right.

It isn’t hard to work out that much of the prestige of lifting the World Cup is as a result of the rarity of opportunity to do it.

Halving the gap between tournaments would certainly dilute the strength of feeling towards it. 

It is no secret that those at the top of football have vested interests in aiding their sport become even more dominant, and in turn raking in even more millions, but the inability of FIFA to see that the aim should be quality, not quantity, is remarkable.

It seems unlikely the proposal will come to pass, not in the near future anyway. 

Maybe if football became a touch less narcissistic, everyone would benefit.