'You have this conflict inside of you': Inside the tortured mind of devout Jehovah's Witness and AFL superstar Alex Rance - as he retires at the peak of his career and splits from his wife

Daily Mail, Australia/December 27, 2019

By Charlie Coe

AFL star and devout Jehovah's Witness Alex Rance endured an internal struggle between his sport and religion before his shock retirement and split from his wife.

The Richmond Tigers defender and five-time All-Australian stunned the football world on Thursday when he announced he was retiring with immediate effect to focus on his 'family and faith'.

Just days later it was revealed Rance, 30, had split from his wife Georgia - who he married in 2012 and is also a committed believer in the faith.

The 2017 Premiership winner has long spoken of his battle to reconcile the competing values of a Jehovah's witness and the elite sport he played for a living.

Last year, he admitted he almost quit the sport at the age of 25 - five years before walking away from a $2million contract with the Tigers this week.

'I just wanted to spend more time with my family, do more associated with my faith. I felt like being in the spotlight would draw attention to me,' he told 20Four's Stack Report.

The 12-year veteran added his physical presence on the field was naturally at odds with his belief system.

'When I want to talk to people about love and care - which are central parts of being a Jehovah's witness, it's conflicting because (on the field) I'm beating someone up,' Rance said.

'I’m trying to beat him, and put myself over him. But when I talk about the leadership side of things, I show that empathy, care and humility.

'It’s not an easy road to walk when you have this conflict inside you.'

Jehovah's Witnesses do play sport - shown most prominently by tennis' Williams sisters.

But the AFL great's dilemma was that body contact and the elite competitiveness which comes with footy are frowned upon by the religion's elders.

'The competitiveness, win-at-all-costs no matter what the consequence for other players is questionable, but we don't dictate what a person chooses to do,' Jehovah's Witnesses senior elder Graeme Martin told The Age in 2015.

'When adults are marking career choices, it's really up to them.'

Aside from being drawn towards his spiritual side, Rance is also invested in the elite college he set up three years ago.

The centre focuses on AFL development both on the field and in the classroom, with lessons focusing on issues in the sport rather than reading Shakespeare.

The announcement of he and his wife's split comes after they sold their home in the upmarket Melbourne suburb of Brighton in September barely a year after moving in. 

The Richmond Tigers player - widely regarded as the AFL's best defender - revealed he was retiring from the sport earlier this month.

In a statement on Richmond's website on December 19, Rance - a five-time All Australian - said he felt it was the right time to 'put energy into other areas of his life' including religion.

'I am someone who will always give their best to what they commit to, and I'm proud of the time, energy and dedication that I've put towards my football career,' he said.

'Right now, I feel I have served my purpose in terms of my on-field performance and cultural impact, and I'm so grateful to the football club for their support and care in allowing me to do that in my own unique way.

'Now I feel is the right time for me to put the same time and energy into other areas of my life that need it, and to prioritise the more important things to me, such as my spiritual growth, my family and friends.'

There had long been talk Rance may walk away from the game earlier than expected because of his devotion to his religion.

Rance played 200 games for the Tigers, after being taken with the 18th pick in the 2007 AFL Draft.

He won Richmond's best and fairest in 2015 and was a crucial part of their drought breaking 2017 Grand Final win - the Tigers' first premiership in 37 years.

His retirement comes just months after missing out on a second premiership after suffering a serious knee injury in the early rounds of 2019.

He made an ultimately fruitless attempt to come back in time for the finals, but that was considered to be worthwhile as it would have him in peak condition for the start of the 2020 season

Rance's expected return to full fitness was set to make the Tigers a formidable force again in 2020 but now the Tigers will have to organise the backline without him.

Richmond CEO Brendan Gale called Rance 'one of the greatest players' in the club's history.

'He leaves this club a highly-decorated premiership player and it has been a privilege for all us to watch him play,' Mr Gale said.

'He is clearly one of the greatest players to have pulled on the Richmond jumper.

'Although he's stepping away from playing football, he'll always be part of Richmond and we wish him and his family all the best for the future.' 

Alex Rance's sporting achievements

Rance played 200 games for the Richmond Tigers after being drafted in 2007

He won Richmond's Most Improved Player award in 2011

He won the club's Best and Fairest in 2015

Rance was a key player in helping the Tigers win the 2017 Grand Final and their first premiership in 37 years

He is a six-time winner of the Francis Bourke Award for club values

He played for the All-Australian team five times and was the captain in 2017

Rance was the co vice-captain for Richmond between 2017-2019 

Richmond CEO Brendan Gale called Rance 'one of the greatest players' in the club's history.

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