Merrick Haydon, managing director of agency rEvolution, recalls rubbing shoulders with Will Carling, representing Great Britain in equestrian eventing and running sub-four hour marathons, and makes the case for more coverage of disability sports.
What is your sporting passion?
Rugby union has been a big part of my life since going to a boarding school in the Welsh mountains where we played it six days a week during the two winter terms!
I was lucky enough to get one of my first big jobs in a sports marketing agency working for the Japanese multimedia company NEC when they took the title sponsorship of Harlequins in 1995, following the sport turning professional in the UK.
I was already hooked on rugby, but working with legends like Zinzan Brooke, Thierry Lacroix, Keith Wood and Will Carling cemented my passion for the game.
How did you first get into sport?
With a sport-obsessive mother who had competed at a high level herself, I had very little choice! I grew up on a farm and learned to ride almost before I could walk.
I competed in equestrian sport from a young age following both my older siblings, and senior school played a big part in my passion for sport where my teachers encouraged and inspired me to always achieve more.
Do you also participate in sport?
I made it into the British junior equestrian eventing squad but it was rugby that took over from 18 onwards. I represented my university and then Rosslyn Park as well as my local club, Chichester, where I played for the Colts at 17, made my way up to the first XV and then all the way back down to the Vets team!
A sub-four-hour London Marathon and riding in a charity horse race at Ascot Racecourse on Shergar Cup Day are locked in my sporting memory bank.
Nowadays I can be found steadily making my way around 5k Park Runs on a Saturday morning and driving hundreds of miles around the country for our son’s rugby endeavours.
What is your most cherished sporting memory?
I have many: Paul Gascoigne’s tearful departure from the Italia ‘90 World Cup, watching Sir Steve Redgrave become the first Briton to win gold at five successive Olympic Games and listening on the radio to the epic Roger Federer-Andy Roddick Wimbledon final in 2009.
But my most recent is being at Twickenham for the 2015 Rugby World Cup final to watch New Zealand beat Australia and see the world-class Richie McCaw and prodigious Beauden Barrett.
What is your greatest hope in sport?
As a parent of two children who have played sport competitively all the way through school, my greatest hope is that more young people have access to sport and the incredible life values that team sport provides.
I also hope fair play and sportsmanship are never eroded on the pitch or the sidelines with the growing pressures of achievement and social media.
If you could change one thing about sport, what would it be?
The growth and increased media profile of disability sports is encouraging, but way more needs to be done – including using the power of TV coverage.
The Paralympics is truly globally inspiring and the London 2012 Games had a huge positive effect in the UK.
Activity from the major national bodies is growing, from wheelchair tennis to blind football, but they need greater support and even more mainstream media coverage.
New initiatives such as the Invictus Games are breaking down barriers and smashing prejudices about the injured and the disabled and should be applauded.
Merrick Haydon is Managing Director of sports and lifestyle agency rEvolution, London.