Sports Psychology - The effects of cancelling the Olympics


Matt Cunliffe, Lecturer in Sport and Exercise Psychology at the University of Greenwich was interviewed by BBC world news about how athletes are coping with major competitions being cancelled.

In his interview Matt said that if the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games are postponed into 2021, it will have devastating effects on the many athletes and staff that have prepared for the last 4 years and in some cases their whole lives, to put their skills to the ultimate test against the best in the world. Olympic Games have been cancelled only 3 times in history, all three because of war (WW1 and WW 2).

Matt suggested that this would be somewhat like a grief cycle that athletes may go through when they have career-ending injuries or suffer being deselected from their team. He suggested that athletes will go through stages of denial, anger, sadness, and finally acceptance of the present reality that they live in. Currently, the athletes he is working with are saying that they were experiencing frustration at the fact the International Olympic Committee (IOC) was taking a long time to decide whether to cancel. Safety is obviously their main priority and the IOC needs to preserve the competitive integrity of the games by ensuring that athletes who compete are at the top of their game when they compete.

Given all of this, how can athletes manage the situation? Firstly, there is a need to focus on things we can control. Athletes can't pre-empt what is going to happen, nor can they control what is happening on a global scale. It is important at this time that they focus on their day to day activities, keeping fit, staying active, and training as best they can whilst in isolation. Athletes need to stay pro-active, focusing on what they can do, and focusing on the facts of the situation. Finally, as a nod to many of performance lifestyle colleagues, athletes should seek alternative opportunities for personal and professional development.

If athletes are having difficulties during these times, it is important that they seek support from a properly qualified sport and exercise psychologist who is Health Care Professions Council (HCPC) registered. Like Matt, many of his colleagues are offering online support to athletes of all levels who are suffering from psychological challenges posed by COVID-19.