November 21, 2008 / 5:29 AM / 10 years ago

Stressed Australian bankers shun the pub for the pool

SYDNEY (Reuters Life!) - Australian bankers stressed at facing the worst economic crisis in over 80 years are finding a new way to cope rather than drowning their sorrows in the pub — throwing themselves into biathlons and competitive sports.

Participants jump into a swimming pool during a weekly, after-work biathlon that gathers a few hundred professionals including lawyers, bankers and accountants, at The Domain adjacent to Sydney's central business district November 20, 2008. REUTERS/Tim Wimborne

As dealmaking dries up amid the economic crisis, stress levels are rising and bankers are finding themselves with more time to leave the office and in need of a dose of adrenaline to replace the buzz of multi-million dollar plays.

Although Australia’s economy is faring better than most developed countries, Sydney, one of the most important financial centers in Asia Pacific, has seen a few thousand jobs cut in the past two months, mostly in financial firms.

As the crisis gets worse, bankers are also worried about their annual bonuses.

Matt Anderson, the organizer of a weekly biathlon in Sydney, said there has been a rush of interest in the event that involves a four km run and 300 meter swim at a pool overlooking the city’s stunning harbor. Attendance is up 25 percent from a year ago.

Anderson said people were trying to find a balanced life at a time when fears of a global recession were on everyone’s mind.

“Doing these activities can get rid of all the stress during this economic uncertainty,” Anderson, who runs a sporting event company, told Reuters.

The event, that dates back 15 years and is held every Thursday night during summer, gathers a few hundred professionals, among them lawyers, bankers and accountants.

Three colleagues at an investment bank just joined the group finding they had a lighter work load since the crisis hit.

“It was difficult before to get out of the office on time on Thursday to join the biathlon,” said one of the bankers who asked not to be named.

Colonial First State fund manager Sean McGettigan confessed his newly-acquired fitness has been key to keeping his sanity at work where he manages a bond portfolio.

McGettigan has shed 20 kg (44 pounds) in the past year after starting an intense sports program including half-marathons and plans to run a marathon and perhaps a biathlon next year.

“I don’t think I would have been able to cope this year without my improved fitness level,” he said. “I deal with market volatility a lot better.”

James Bright, a Sydney-based career management psychologist from Bright & Associates, said this trend to take up competitive sports was understandable because it provided an opportunity for people to focus all their energy and thoughts into one activity.

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“It provides a way to immerse yourself in a completely different experience and take your mind off the pressures,” he said.

The rise of competitive sports, in particular among bankers and lawyers, is no real surprise to psychologists because both professions are combative and their outcome are easily measured — just like sports.

“People go into sports because sports is so gloriously simple,” said Bright, adding that sport was also predictable with its boundaries. “A lot of people like that because they are yearning for certainty.”

Editing by Belinda Goldsmith

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