Sport, interrupted: The multi-league security expert with an insecure future

With a possible seven more months without sport, Deon Loots is forced to dig into his savings and seek other employment. Deon Loots

The Covid-19 pandemic has brought the sporting economy to a shuddering halt. In India, the lockdown and its longer-term implications threaten the future of clubs, academies, leagues, support staff, all the people who help move the wheels of sport. In this series, ESPN looks across the country's sporting ecosystem, from the big clubs to the neighbourhood academies, to see how they've been affected.

Deon Loots found his first summer job in India nine years ago and since then the parade of sports leagues here -- spanning cricket, kabaddi and football -- has been his primary source of sustenance. He made friends here, even picked up a few Malayalam words from his stay in Kochi and, after close to a decade of travelling and working in India, he "almost feels like an Indian citizen".

Loots was hoping to land a contract for a 57-day security liaison officer assignment for the 2020 Indian Premier League (IPL). Talks were on when, because of the coronavirus, the IPL was suspended until further notice. He's now at home in Pretoria, South Africa, digging into his post-retirement savings and staring at a possible seven more months away from sport.

On an average, Loots' freelance stint in the Indian leagues ran for two to four months a year, with earnings between $3,000 and $5,000 a month. Now, his income avenues have disappeared. "The virus is an absolute nail in the coffin for people working in sport everywhere," Loots tells ESPN. "It's devastating, almost like my life has come to a stop. I'm in my fifties, homebound, with no earnings but I still have to pay my bills. I can't see things getting back to normal or finding work in sport this year."

Loots, formerly with the South African intelligence service for a couple of decades, had his first IPL gig in 2011 with Deccan Chargers and later worked with the Pune and Rajasthan franchises. Additionally, he has served as a city coordinator, based largely out of Kochi, in the Indian Super League, and also took up a security advisory role in the Pro Kabaddi League. His role in all of them was primarily overseeing stadium security arrangements, advising Indian colleagues on international safety norms and coordinating among teams, police, local security as well as paramedics.

He's one of the many South Africans who work in security on the various Indian leagues. Their commitment to professionalism, he says, and "willingness to share insight to the newest norm of security" give them an advantage. As, sadly, does the high crime rate in South Africa, which has helped the security industry there.

Apart from Indian leagues, Loots has also taken up similar roles during the 2016 Under-19 cricket World Cup in Bangladesh, working for the Nepal team, apart from jobs in South African sport. Occasionally, during the months he's home, he'd switch closer to his ex-cop job and take up investigations on contract. It's fair to say, though, that his Indian gigs are far more remunerative.

Sports interrupted: Stories on the coronavirus lockdown impact the Indian sport ecosystem

His return to a life of working for a sports league, travelling between cities, interacting with players and sightseeing, could still be a while away. Even when sport does circle back to normalcy, Loots doesn't foresee a resumption at its former scale. "Sport events could be downsized and there might not be that kind of money in it anymore."

An avid runner who has completed 250 full marathons, Loots remarried in 2014 and lives with his wife and two kids from her previous marriage. "Working in sport keeps me active and mentally young. Both myself and my wife share a common passion for running and even when I'm away for months working in India, the family supported my decision. I miss my buddies in India, we chat every few weeks and I follow the news online to know what's happening back in the country."

With sport now on an uncertain pause, Loots is considering shifting completely to investigation jobs. As the sole breadwinner of his family, living without a job for the rest of the year, he fears, might be cutting it too close. In addition to his police background, Loots also holds a law degree. "There is no work in sport anywhere in the world right now. I could look for a job as a freelance contractor in private investigative firms in South Africa. Of course, the money will be little compared to security and liaison roles in sport. To survive, I may have to take it up."

Whenever sport resumes and leagues in India grind to life, Loots promises to wait for a call-up and make the 5,000-mile trip back to the bright lights and big money.