Athletes planning to retire after the Tokyo Games face a mental health “double whammy” if the event is cancelled, according to the chair of an athletes’ representative body.
Vicki Aggar, a Paralympic rowing bronze medallist in 2008 and the chair of the British Athletes Commission, says governing bodies are already trying to help athletes prepare mentally for the possibility of the Olympic and Paralympic Games being called off amid a resurgence of coronavirus infections worldwide.
The international Olympic and Paralympic committees issued statements on Friday underlining their commitment to staging this summer’s Games, which were due to take place in July and August last year but had to be delayed due to the pandemic.
But Aggar says behind the scenes some sports are having “mature conversations” with athletes to help them at least talk about the possibility of cancellation.
She told the PA news agency: “The system is starting to get ready, I don’t think it’s fully ready for a ‘no Games’ (scenario).
“I think there’s a team of sports psychologists who are probably starting to think about ‘oh my goodness, what happens (if the Games are cancelled)? Certainly at the BAC we’re starting to think about what happens.
“I think levels of anxiety are really being felt by athletes. Credit to the sports, they are having open conversations with athletes which is probably the most helpful thing in terms of managing – that openness of conversation just helps the athletes’ mental health.
“The biggest thing for me is that we know athletes have a bit of a slump anyway when they come off competing at a Games – you’ve had that high of competing, you come back and it’s flat and low anyway.
“If you don’t get to the Games, and you were thinking of retiring, I think that’s a double whammy for someone’s mental health. If you were hoping for the podium, that’s their big last hurrah before retirement, so I really worry about those people.”
In 2⃣0⃣2⃣0⃣ – our busiest-ever year – we supported our members across a range of issues, with many of the cases also requiring varying degrees of mental health and wellbeing support ⬇️
— The BAC (@TheBAC) January 21, 2021
The BAC represents almost 1,400 elite athletes from over 40 sports on the world-class programme. Earlier this week it announced the number of cases it had handled in 2020 had more than doubled compared to 2019, with athlete welfare issues the most common.
The BAC is also hearing concerns from athletes about the “moral dilemma” around receiving vaccinations in order to compete in Tokyo, ahead of those in society who are more vulnerable, and around the inability to measure themselves against their rivals in pre-Games competitions.
“Coming into a big Games year you want to know where you are in the world rankings, there are so many unknowns,” Aggar said.
“As an athlete I would hate it this year not to have a few World Cups under my belt to find out where my training has got me.”