With the Olympic Games Tokyo 2021 well underway, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) emphasizes the need to support athletes’ well-being and highlight the importance of protecting their mental health.
On Tuesday, the Olympian Simone Biles withdrew from the U.S. women’s gymnastics team during the Tokyo Olympics. Biles cited mental health challenges as the reason for her sudden withdrawal. Over the last year-and-a-half, the COVID-19 pandemic has turned athletes’ lives and training schedules upside down and put to the test their physical and mental health.
The IOC, the IOC Athletes’ Commission (AC), and Olympic partners have all increased their efforts to offer athletes a series of programs and tools to help them recognize and tackle mental health issues.
Athlete365: leading the way on athletes’ mental health
In a survey launched by the IOC AC in 2020, 32 percent of the 4,000 athletes and entourage members who responded said that mental health was the biggest challenge they were currently facing. The IOC has taken this feedback on board and subsequently developed several extra resources to support athletes.
Some resources are regularly made available to athletes and their entourages on the Athlete365 community, where in-depth advice from medical professionals and performance managers can be found, together with past and present Olympians sharing their own experience and tips on well-being.
A series of webinars for athletes has also been organized to help them cope with the restrictions linked to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Additionally, the two most recent editions of the International Athletes’ Forum (IAF) in 2019 and 2021 saw an increased emphasis on discussions around athlete mental health, with dedicated panel discussions involving high-profile athletes and IOC AC members such as Lindsey Vonn and Abhinav Bhindra.
Support from the Olympic Partners
In June 2020, a new athlete support program with Intel was launched, including well-being services and opportunities to learn how to better deal with stress and anxiety with Headspace.
Headspace is a meditation and sleep app used by 66 million people around the world and is proven to reduce stress and improve happiness. As part of the offer, athletes get six months’ free access to the highest level Headspace subscription, including a full library with themed courses, a new meditation every day, sleep exercises and bedtime sounds, and move mode for body and mind fitness.
Allianz, the Worldwide Insurance Partner of the Olympic and Paralympic Movements, announced ahead of Tokyo 2020 the launch of two global programs for athletes.
The Allianz Support Dog Squad and Allianz Buddy Program are designed to provide more confidence and mental health support to Olympic and Paralympic athletes.
A joint effort to protect athletes’ mental health and well-being
The IOC has been leading the conversation on mental health for several years. In 2018, the IOC Medical and Scientific Commission established a Consensus Group of 20 experts, consisting of leading psychiatrists, psychologists, athlete representatives and sports medicine professionals.
They examined symptoms and mental health disorders that research suggests affect up to 35 percent of elite athletes at some stage of their careers.