Paris 2024 Prioritizes Athletes Mental Health

Athletes

Three years after gymnastics superstar Simone Biles put the mental health of athletes in the spotlight at the Tokyo Olympics, the Paris Games are set to demonstrate how increased awareness has led to better care and support. Biles famously withdrew from most of her events in Tokyo due to mental health struggles and the “twisties” – a disorienting condition affecting gymnasts mid-air. Her decision sparked a global conversation about the mental health of athletes.

As the Paris 2024 Olympics approach, organizers are keen to show that they have learned valuable lessons. For the first time, competitors will have access to a “mindfulness and relaxation area” above the main gym in the Olympic Village. This area, called the “365 Athlete365 Mind Zone,” will offer virtual reality headsets for meditation, sleep pods, and art activities in a soothing, low-light environment. Kirsty Burrows, Head of Safe Sport at the International Olympic Committee (IOC), described it as “very zen, like a futuristic spa.”

Additionally, athletes will have access to an alcohol-free bar and social areas designed to help them relax. They will also receive guides on maintaining good mental hygiene, emphasizing the importance of limiting screen time. Laurent Dalard, Paris 2024 health coordinator, noted that just as athletes avoid unhealthy food before a competition, they should also avoid excessive use of social media platforms like TikTok and Instagram.

A mental health helpline, available in 70 languages, will be provided for all Olympic and Paralympic athletes. Furthermore, around 90 national teams will bring their own mental health welfare officers, a new accreditation available since the Beijing Winter Olympics in 2022. Research indicates that elite athletes experience mental health disorders at similar rates to the general population, but they are more vulnerable to anxiety and depression due to the intense pressures they face.

Marion Leboyer, a psychiatrist and founder of the French research foundation FondaMental, stated that “around one athlete in three experiences symptoms of a mental health problem.” The openness of athletes like Biles, Japanese tennis player Naomi Osaka, and Australian swimmer Ian Thorpe has helped destigmatize mental health issues in sports. Slovenian rock climber Janja Garnbret, who won gold at the Tokyo Olympics, has spoken out about anorexia in the climbing community, prompting the International Climbing Federation to implement health checks for competitors.

In France, multi-gold medallist Marie-Jose Perec recently revealed more about her decision to abandon the Sydney Olympics in 2000 due to mental health struggles. Her departure was met with little sympathy at the time, highlighting the lack of understanding of mental health issues.

Paris 2024 will also introduce measures to combat cyber-harassment and bullying, using AI technology to monitor and flag abusive social media posts. This service, provided by London-based data company Signify.ai, will be offered to all 15,000 Olympic and Paralympic athletes on an opt-in basis.

The efforts to address athletes’ mental health at the Paris Olympics reflect a significant shift in the recognition and treatment of mental health issues in sports, ensuring a supportive environment for all competitors.

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By- Sahiba Suri

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