Professional Athletes and the Struggles of Lockdown

Published on 10 March 2021 at 14:27

Since the beginning of this pandemic athletes have had it rough. The Olympics supposed to be held in 2020 in Tokyo were cancelled and there is still uncertainty as to how they will be taking place this coming summer. 


Indeed, one year in the life of an athlete which relies entirely on his or her physical strength and maybe even more so on mental health can make a huge difference. Usually, professional athletes tend to suffer from mental health crisis because of stress notably. Now, because of covid this is obviously even worse. A study from Standford university and Strava conducted from mid-March to August of 2020 reported that 22.5% of professional athletes admit bordering on depression a day out of two mainly. Before the pandemic that was only 3.9% allegedly. This extended to anxiety and a lack of interest in general. 


Another study was carried by the National Collegiate Athletic Association soliciting 37 000 student-athletes in particular. Their stress, caused by the uncertainty that covid puts their life into, was mainly due to a fear of exposure to the virus (43%), but also due to a lack of motivation (40%) anxiety or stress (21%), and only 13% because of sadness or depression. This reveals the issue goes well beyond depression, but is rather related to the fact that they can’t plan their future in such conditions, which is obviously distressing. For all these reasons and for obvious circumstances, 80% of them were reported having difficulties keeping up with their athletic training. The fact that they can’t access dedicated facilities obviously doesn’t make it any easier.


Also, one needs to keep in mind, the pandemic puts them under financial strains as well, as they are afraid to lose their sponsors now, due to the lack of physical paying spectators, they don’t have the same visibility. Now, is probably a time for professional athletes to use wisely their social media to get positively noticed.


Because of Covid, athletes have suffered from disrupted training and this has cost some of them not to be qualified for the next Olympics. During the last European Figure Skating Championships in January 2021 in Zagreb Croatia, that is all commentators could talk about: the lack of training and the physical exhaustion of skaters. 


Fans miss cheering their favorite athletes at events. It came as no surprise that, in spite of it being a sanitary hazard, supporters of the Paris Saint Germain football team were allowed to rally in front of the Parc des Princes in March 2020, when the team confronted Dortmund in honour of the Champions League. It is with gratitude that Parisian and more generally French supporters gathered then under the control of the police. 

Just a few days earlier, Ireland’s Six Nations rugby against Italy had been cancelled because of covid. It fortunately took place last October after all, but it sure gave us a taste of what was coming.


Professional athletes’ careers are often short, or in any case they can’t really extend beyond a certain age. Therefore, every year you age with the knowledge that you won’t be getting back any of the championships you missed on because of a lack of training and a scarce motivation. Not to mention, if you get sick you can’t perform and it’s the work of months or even years that gets thrown out of the window. 


Then, what is the solution? I believe, thanks to our wildly technological society, there is still a way for us to support our favourite athletes and allow them to make a living out of their art. I know I will be watching the Olympics this summer, and I am certainly not alone. 


When it comes to their mental health, it is not really up to the fans to get involved, though spreading love is always a great reward to their hard work. It is reassuring to know that, most of them, are getting followed by professional therapists at this difficult time in their careers. 


This therapy has revealed curious trends. Student athletes for instance, seem to have had more time to focus on their studies as the pandemic offered them somewhat of a break from their predominantly athletic life. Some of them have taken this opportunity to reconnect with their families, as most of us have, but also and most importantly relax and apparently sleep better. The pressure they would be put through would normally be enormous as doing a university degree and competing in championships borders on supernatural if you ask me.


On this positive note, I recommend watching the upcoming World Figure Skating Championships, which will take place between the 22 and the 28th of March in Stockholm. 


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