Exactly one month ago, the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games came to an end – an extraordinary Games edition in many respects. It was the first time in Olympic history that the Games had to be postponed due to the global COVID-19 pandemic. This posed unprecedented challenges to the organisers and everyone involved, most importantly to the athletes.
For the majority of gymnasts and other athletes, their preparation for the Games was disrupted by numerous uncertainties, making normal training and a daily routine often extremely difficult or even impossible. They had to remain extremely flexible, patient and persistent. These exceptional circumstances may have also made it easier for them to articulate publicly the challenges they have been facing not only before but also during the Games. Numerous athletes, with the gymnast Simone Biles certainly being one of the most prominent examples, decided to prioritise for the first time their health and well-being above all.
Alex McLin, Director of the Gymnastics Ethics Foundation, says: “From our Foundation’s perspective, the most important legacy of Tokyo 2020 is that these Games helped shift the public focus from the premise of ‘winning at all costs’ to the importance of protecting the athletes: the need to put athletes and their well-being first; the fact that well-being involves much more than physical health and that mental health has a crucial impact on an athlete’s performance, just as it has a crucial impact on everyone’s performance and overall well-being. These Games have demonstrated to people across the globe that athletes must be regarded and treated as human beings and not as mere ‘medal machines’.”
COVID-19 has undoubtedly had a huge impact on the mental health of the majority of athletes. However, many other factors also come into play. The gymnastics community has increasingly been made more aware of these during the last years. For athletes, feeling safe and secure during practice is critical. The world of sport has seen far too many cases when this basic requirement was not met. Without doubt, elite sport involves a lot of hard work and sacrifice, but in principle it should be safe, enjoyable and lead to an athlete’s personal fulfilment. Thanks to Tokyo 2020 and to the courageous athletes raising their voices, this has now become part of the conversation which will positively impact the culture of gymnastics and of elite sport at large.
image copyright: 2021 / Comité International Olympique (CIO) / Evans, Jason