Category Archives: E119

Man Up! The Inclusion of Transgender Men in Sport

Authored by the team ‘Insight’: Charleigh Heathcote, Denise Hamilton-Mace, Daisy Manuel, Olivia Whitehead and Dina Day [E119 21J students].


This blog was written as part of a collaborative teamwork task by students studying E119. They had to select a topic and then decide on what roles each person would perform in the team, such as researcher, writer, editor, and leader. This blog was chosen as one of the best blogs from around 80 blogs that were produced.


When someone is told to ‘man up’ what comes to mind? Is there an inference that something is lacking? Are they not meeting some sort of masculinity model presented by modern-day society? There are men out there that have done their fair share of ‘manning up’ to become the pillars of men they are today, but the recognition is hard to come by. They are treading paths that very few dare to tread.

So, to whom are we referring? Transgender men. For those who are unfamiliar with the term, transgender men or transmen are individuals that were born biologically female but identify as male. Every fibre in their body tells them they are men through and through. For some, to fulfil their identity, competing in sport is the ultimate dream. Athletes such as Mack Beggs, Shay Price, Verity Smith, and Danny Baker to name a few, are forging armour for the modern transman. But it is not without its kinks.

Rightly so each sport has a set of rules and guidelines to be abided by. But what happens when you do not fit into those age-old parameters? Conflict and turmoil arise. Whilst there is a plethora of legislation for transgender women in sports, transmen athletes are not deemed as having a physiological advantage over their cisgender male counterparts (Burnett, 2021). Therefore, the International Olympic Committee (IOC), as of 2015, stated that “Those who transition from female to male are eligible to compete in the male category without restriction.” Furthermore, The World Athletics Eligibility Regulations for Transgender Athletes (2019) stipulates a transgender “male athlete must provide a written and signed declaration, in a form satisfactory to the Medical Manager, that his gender identity is male.”

One particular trailblazer is Chris Mosier. His work as an athlete, coach and educator has brought about significant changes to how trans athletes can compete. Mosier has made history in several ways: in 2015 he was the first American transgender male athlete to qualify for the duathlon world championship; at the 2016 Olympic games he was the first transman to compete against men; he was even the first transgender athlete to feature in the ESPN Body Issue! He was pivotal in campaigning to the IOC specifically asking for the removal of the requirement for surgery in order for transgender athletes to compete. He fervently continues to educate and campaign for LGBTQ+ inclusion.

However, this does not mean everything is plain sailing. Take for example transman Mack Beggs. In 2017, at just 17 years old, he was Texas state champion wrestler for two consecutive years but competed against girls. Beggs wanted to compete against boys but a state ban in Texas limited transgender athletes to teams aligning with their gender at birth. The girls he competed against wanted him to wrestle men as they felt he had some sort of advantage whilst on low doses of testosterone as part of his transition. All of this took a massive toll on Beggs’ mental health. He says, “You have to wrestle against girls — but you really want to wrestle against guys. You beat girls, but technically you are a girl, but technically you’re not. It was a no-win situation” Because of this experience he admits, “I was in a very dark place. I had to seek out help” (Hartley, 2021).

It is this dark place that many transgender individuals face. In a resource put together by Public Health England (2015), “One study in the UK found that 34.4% of trans adults had attempted suicide at least once,” and “There is a strong evidence base that demonstrates the negative impact of discrimination and stigma on trans young people. The result is increased substance misuse, depression, self-harm and suicide.” Whilst many athletes in general do not make it to elite level, grassroot and community sports play tremendous parts in transmen’s lives.

Shay Price is one transman that relied on bodybuilding to battle his demons. He explains, “Going to the gym is like therapy. I can go there and take my anger and frustration out. It just picks me up.” (Ward, 2021). His success in the industry prompts others to ask him for training tips and advice. He is a walking billboard for other transmen to aspire to. Jordan Jackson, a three-time taekwondo gold medallist fights for inclusion within his self-made fitness centre Stealth Fitness UK. His ethos envelopes more than just training. It is about support for the trans community and having a sense of belonging. Jordan admits, “I know the mental health deterioration that can happen when trans people don’t have a physical outlet… there’s nothing worse than being stuck by yourself and having your thoughts go over and over in your mind” (Ward, 2021). Rugby wheelchair player Verity Smith was the target of abuse for being transgender but relied on sport and his team members to support him. He echoes Jordan’s words saying: “I struggled with my mental health […] Playing sport gave me something to concentrate on. It gave me another family” (Ward, 2021).

Whilst some sporting governing bodies are adjusting rules for transgender athletes, the tides of promise are sometimes still too little, let alone too late. In the meantime, inclusion at the very least should surely be the priority; for some it could mean their life. Verity Smith epitomises all the hopes and dreams for transmen athletes in but a few sentences when he said, ‘Sport is life. Everyone should have the right to play sport as themselves” (Ward, 2021).

 

References:

Burnett, S. (2021) Fact check: Do trans athletes have an advantage in elite sport? [Online] Available at: https://www.dw.com/en/fact-check-do-trans-athletes-have-an-advantage-in-elite-sport/a-58583988 (Accessed 24 January 2022).

Cunningham, S. (2016) Chris Mosier First Trans Athlete to Pose for ESPN’s Body Issue Duathlete Chris Mosier is making history as the first transgender athlete to be profiled for ESPN Magazine’s Body Issue. [Online]. Available at: https://www.nbcnews.com/feature/nbc-out/chris-mosier-first-trans-athlete-pose-espn-s-body-issue-n597146 (Accessed 23 January 2022).

Harding, R. (2020) Mack Beggs Is Still Grappling With Ignorance. After a high school wrestling career muddled with controversy, he’s addressing transgender rights head-on Available at: https://www.menshealth.com/trending-news/a33984383/mack-beggs-transgender-wrestler-interview/ (Accessed 16 January 2022).

Hartley, E. (2021) Mack Beggs, transgender wrestler who rose to prominence for competing against women: ‘It took a toll on me’ [Online]. Available at: https://uk.finance.yahoo.com/news/mack-beggs-transgender-wrestler-who-rose-to-prominence-for-competing-against-women-it-took-a-toll-on-me-191642125.html?guccounter=1&guce_referrer=aHR0cHM6Ly9kdWNrZHVja2dvLmNvbS8&guce_referrer_sig=AQAAAKtWap5aNQ8Cxd8_Xx5fXM2TxXBBeSo7EWcN8CRwQlUdZgO51zPYf_k5VNIYZuq7iOo_4bDmSsWJMh2H9hp3Aw8Bhn7xKXCGlbVDbIMi-iWXsWOp-w0OdNiYtuFOqtFeSPjECjmu3XWAFoG_dho8rYi9Ga72wMAVsvXH9WFxpJRG (Accessed 11 January 2022).

IAAF (n.d.), Eligibility Regulations for Transgender Athletes [Online]. Available at: https://www.worldathletics.org/download/download?filename=63067c17-1ab4-4a08-a132-5e36bda5fc61.pdf&urlslug=Eligibility%20Regulations%20for%20Transgender%20Athletes%2C%20in%20force%20from%201%20October%202019 (Accessed 15 January 2022).

Ingram, Benjamin James MD1; Thomas, Connie Lynn (2019) Transgender Policy in Sport, A Review of Current Policy and Commentary of the Challenges of Policy Creation [Online]. Available at: https://journals.lww.com/acsmcsmr/Fulltext/2019/06000/Transgender_Policy_in_Sport,_A_Review_of_Current.10.aspx?fbclid=IwAR2AGlQBfbUmpZBRCLk9PLC0IqA2F7Uu9qkuXslpQrUt0ZxgEjd_etz0DXs (Accessed 17 January 2022).

International Olympic Committee (2015) IOC Consensus Meeting on Sex Reassignment and Hyperandrogenism November 2015 [Online]. Available at: https://stillmed.olympic.org/Documents/Commissions_PDFfiles/Medical_commission/2015-11_ioc_consensus_meeting_on_sex_reassignment_and_hyperandrogenism-en.pdf (Accessed 23 January 2022).

Jones, B et al. (2017) Sport and Transgender People: A Systematic Review of the Literature Relating to Sport Participation and Competitive Sport Policies [Online]. Available at: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s40279-016-0621-y (Accessed 12 January 2022).

Mosier, C. (2021) [Online]. Available at: https://www.transathlete.com/ (Accessed 14 January 2022).

Public Health England (2015) Trans suicide prevention toolkit [Online]. Available at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/417707/Trans_suicide_Prevention_Toolkit_Final_26032015.pdf (Accessed 14 January 2022).

QVoiceNews (2019) Transgender boxer Patricio Manuel. Video courtesy Everlast [Online]. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zaaV3YhwwYk (Accessed 11 January 2022).

Ward, T. (2021) ‘Equal Play’. Men’s Health Magazine, December 2021 Issue, pp. 70-79.

Elite athletes and their struggle with mental health

Authored by the team ‘OU United’: Jonathan Bell, James Mikelson, Mia Savage, and Hannah Wood [E119 21J students].


This blog was written as part of a collaborative teamwork task by students studying E119. They had to select a topic and then decide on what roles each person would perform in the team, such as researcher, writer, editor, and leader. This blog was chosen as one of the best blogs from around 70 blogs that were produced.


Physical activity is commonly shown to improve mental health, as suggested by evidence that shows a 20-30% reduction in depression in adults who participate in physical activity daily (Pierce, et al., 2018). Physical activity can help to improve wellbeing, even a short burst of exercise or a 10-minute walk increases our mental alertness, energy, and positive mood (Mental Health Foundation 2015). However, for athletes involved in elite sports, an improvement in mental health isn’t always the case.

The International Olympic Committee released a consensus statement on mental health in elite athletes (Reardon et al., 2019, p.671). This identified 11 mental health disorders that can be experienced by athletes. These were:

  1. Sleep disorders
  2. Major depressive disorder
  3. Suicide
  4. Anxiety
  5. Post-traumatic stress disorder
  6. Eating disorder
  7. ADHD
  8. Bipolar and psychotic disorders
  9. Sport related concussion
  10. Substance use disorders
  11. Gambling disorder and other behavioural disorders

In the recent Tokyo Olympic Games, the mental health issues faced by elite athletes were highlighted. Gymnast Simone Biles, a four-time Olympic gold medallist, made the decision to not compete in the rest of the games. Simone Biles said “I have to focus on my mental health” after withdrawing from the women’s team final (BBC, 2021). She also stated that ‘Mental health is more important than the pursuit of medals’, this shows that the amount of pressure placed on her to do well had forced her to withdraw and focus on herself.

You can read more about Simone’s decision to pull out of the games by visiting: https://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/olympics/57982665

Being a successful elite athlete, like herself, can take a toll on mental health due to the pressure from coaches, the media, and fans to be the best. From Biles raising awareness of her struggles with mental health, she has hopefully encouraged others to speak up about their own experiences, as well as highlighting the impact the pressures of elite sport can have on athletes.

She has shown the effects of being in a competitive environment and the struggles of participating in elite sport. Athletes spend years preparing for big events, such as the Olympics, where they are representing their country and showcasing their talent to thousands of people. This can create an enormous amount of pressure due to the feelings of uncertainty, fear of failure and the need to succeed.

In addition to pressure to succeed, there are many reasons for elite athletes to suffer from mental health issues, here are a few of them:

Retirement

Retiring can be a difficult and challenging process for athletes. Mind (2022) say this is because sportspeople who have spent their life being defined as an athlete, now have to get used to and adapt to a life without sport, which can cause a lack of self-identity and missing sport can cause depression.

Injury and performance failure  

One of the most recognised risk factors for psychological distress amongst athletes has been sports injury. A study of 353 male athletes from a mix of sports found that 51% of them showed symptoms of depression after being injured and 12% became moderately to severely depressed (Gonser, 2020). When an athlete is injured, they can no longer use exercise as a form of stress relief, which can be mentally challenging, they may feel frustration and self-helplessness. Performance failure can be demotivating as it may mean goals are not met, this can lead to a decrease in self-belief and a feeling of letting themselves and others down.

Struggling in silence

Athletes who have revealed their own stories of mental health in sport, encourage others to do the same so that they aren’t suffering alone. Natasha Danvers claims that as an athlete you are “supposed to be able to handle things”, which can create a stigma around asking for help and support as it means having to admit you have a weakness (Mind, 2022). This can make mental health issues worse as the athletes are attempting to deal with it themselves without professional help.

Athletes tend to refrain from seeking support for their mental health. This can be due to stigma around mental health, lack of understanding on the subject and the perception that seeking help is a sign of weakness (Pierce et al., 2018). Hopefully, by more athletes speaking up about their mental health issues, others will be inspired to do the same and reach out for support.

In terms of athletes getting help with their mental health, there are many projects and organisations out there to provide support. A charity that is attempting to make a change is State of mind. State of mind is a charity that aims to promote positive mental health, deliver education on the subject, tackle the stigma, and encourage access to support to ultimately prevent suicide. They also provide health resources and adult mental health first aid training which can be used to benefit athletes in distress. Athletes have been quoted saying they support this charity and what it’s doing, for example, Footballer Roy Keane says “I am fully supportive of the State of mind campaign. Mental health issues need to be addressed and doing it through sport should raise the profile”. (State of Mind, 2022)

Although athletes may seem like they are doing well because they are winning medals, behind the scenes they may be struggling with a mental health issue. If you’re reading this and are struggling yourself don’t be afraid to ask for help!

Some links for mental health support:

https://www.nhs.uk/mental-health/nhs-voluntary-charity-services/nhs-services/how-to-access-mental-health-services/

https://www.mind.org.uk/about-us/our-policy-work/sport-physical-activity-and-mental-health/

https://www.time-to-change.org.uk/mental-health-and-stigma/help-and-support

 

Reference list

BBC Sport. (2021) Simone Biles says ‘I have to focus on my mental health’ after pulling out of team final. Available at Simone Biles says ‘I have to focus on my mental health’ after pulling out of team final – BBC Sport (Accessed: 24/01/2022).

Gonser, S. (2020) What athletes should know about post-injury depression. Available at What Athletes Should Know About Post-Injury Depression – LRT Sports – College Athletic News and Exclusive Coach Ratings (lrt-sports.com) (Accessed: 25/01/2022).

Mental Health Foundation. (2015) How to look after your mental health using exercise [Online]. Available at How to look after your mental health using exercise | Mental Health Foundation (Accessed: 24/01/2022).

Mind (2022) Performance Matters: Mental Health in Elite Sport. Available at mental-health-and-elite-sport.pdf (mind.org.uk) (Accessed: 25/01/2022).

Peirce, N., Lester, C., Seth, A., Turner, p. (2018) The Role of Physical Activity and Sport in Mental Health [Online]. Available at The Role of Physical Activity and Sport in Mental Health – The Faculty of Sport and Exercise Medicine (fsem.ac.uk) (Accessed: 24/01/2022).

Reardon, C. (2019) Mental Health in elite athletes: International Olympic Committee consensus statement. Available at Mental health in elite athletes: International Olympic Committee consensus statement (2019) (bmj.com) (Accessed: 24/01/2022).

State of Mind. (2022) What we do. Available at https://stateofmindsport.org/what-we-do/ (Accessed: 25/01/2022).

Is taking the knee making a difference to racism in football?

Authored by the team ‘The Masked Bloggers’: Christopher Nash, Corey Ward, Gavin McLeod, Alistair Rigg, Richard Davies, Laurie Adam, Laura Kelly, June Lloyd, and Azur Allison [E119 21J students].


This blog was written as part of a collaborative teamwork task by students studying E119. They had to select a topic and then decide on what roles each person would perform in the team, such as researcher, writer, editor, and leader. This blog was chosen as one of the best blogs from around 70 blogs that were produced.


The media coverage of football players taking the knee before games to make a stand against racial injustice filled our TV’s and newspapers as it became common practice in the latter half of 2020. Reflecting over the last 18 months, has it made any difference to racism in football?

The movement famously began with Colin Kaepernick in the NFL back in 2016, but after the tragic events of 2020 and the death of George Floyd in police custody, footballer’s felt it was their duty to use their public status to show their support for the Black Lives Matter campaign in the stand against racial injustice and police brutality (Sky News, 2021).

Has taking the knee made any difference?

If the sole aim of taking the knee was to raise the conversation around racial injustice, police brutality, and systemic racism in football and wider society, then yes it has done as intended (Sky News, 2021). It has encouraged players to be openly vocal about issues in the game, whether that be racial abuse or a general underrepresentation of black people in the sport. On that point, Tony Burnett, Head of Football’s Anti-Racism Organisation ‘Kick it Out’, states that compared to the number of professional players from a black background, around 30%, the number in senior roles from the same background is ‘nowhere near enough’ (Mercer, 2021). Is this underrepresentation a systemic issue that will require more than taking a knee before games to open opportunities in football to individuals from black communities?

However, while taking the knee may have raised the conversation about racial injustice, there has been little change to the level of racism in football. Professional football players remain targets for racial abuse on social media; Birmingham striker Troy Deeney claims he receives 30-40 incidents of abuse a week (Mercer, 2021). Plans to put an end to this sort of abuse are in motion, legislation that would hold social media companies legally responsible for the online safety of their users would encourage them to crackdown on users sending racial abuse online (Murphy, 2022: Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport et al, 2021).

The problem facing those who wish to bring an end to racism in football is that it’s a problem that transcends football. Former footballer John Barnes believes that the key to dealing with racism is to change “the perception of the average black person” (Mercer, 2021). Making change at societal level is what will lead to removing racism in football. Burnett went on to argue that the conversation around taking the knee has led to distracting society from the real conversations that could bring about change.  Burnett added to this suggesting we need to talk about “where [racism] comes from, how it manifests in our society and what we need to be doing to tackle it” which he believes is not being talked about enough (Mercer, 2021).

Even current players within the game argue that taking the knee has lost its potency, with Chelsea defender Marcus Alonso believing it has “lost its strength’ (Mercer, 2021), while Crystal Palace’s Wilfred Zaha felt it was ‘degrading’ to take the knee (Sky News, 2021). Surely if those taking part struggle to see any benefit of taking the knee, it could be suggested that it is not making any real difference to the cause it was intended to support.

A positive outlook on taking the knee

Although there has been controversy around taking the knee in football and whether this is having a positive effect on the issues revolving around racism in football, there is also research to support the cause. Taking the knee before kick-off can make a difference to the issues highlighted above, and by raising awareness. If taking the knee ceased, would racism in football become an issue that is ignored? Tyrone Mings, Aston Villa defender and England International, contends that taking the knee has been extremely important to keep discussions about racism relevant (Sky News, 2021). According to youGov, 61% of individuals in Great Britain from ethnically diverse backgrounds thought the gesture made an important contribution to tackling racism (Sky News, 2021). From professional athletes to professional surveys, it is apparent to see that there are still many within the population who think that taking the knee holds its importance in helping to tackle the issues around racism within football.

Taking the knee has also been deemed important as it psychologically informs the younger population who may idolise footballers who are participating in the gesture. Petnga-Wallace (2021) states that “For young children, who may idolise Bukayo Saka or Jack Grealish, seeing their football role models taking an active position against racism may encourage them to be anti-racist’. As young children are heavily influenced by their footballing idols, surely there can be no argument that the gesture of taking the knee can only positively impact our future generation.

So, what can be done?

The racial injustice in football will not go away by itself, wholesale changes must be made to increase inclusivity and to punish those who racially abuse players and/or staff. It’s generally being agreed that taking the knee has lost some of its impetus in challenging these issues. What’s left to be seen is how governments use legislation and we in society implement the change necessary to rid the ‘beautiful game’ of its ugly reputation.

 

References:

Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport, Home Office, and The Rt Hon Oliver Dowden CBE MP (2021), Landmark laws to keep children safe, stop racial hate and protect democracy online published.  Available at:

https://www.gov.uk/government/news/landmark-laws-to-keep-children-safe-stop-racial-hate-and-protect-democracy-online-published (Accessed: 16 January 2022).

Mercer, D. (2021) Why increasing number of footballers have stopped taking the knee Available at: https://news.sky.com/story/footballers-taking-the-knee-isnt-going-to-change-anything-says-ex-england-star-so-whats-the-future-of-the-protest-12432154 (Accessed: 16 January 2022).

Murphy, A. (2022) How Has Football Tackled Racism. Available at: https://www.masterstudies.com/article/how-has-football-tackled-racism/ (Accessed: 16 January 2022).

Petnga-Wallace, P. (2021) Taking the Knee is No Empty Gesture But a Symbol of Righteous Indignation. Available at: https://www.shoutoutuk.org/2021/07/19/taking-the-knee-is-no-empty-gesture-but-a-symbol-of-righteous-indignation/ (Accessed: 24 January 2022)

Sky News, (2021) Wilfred Zaha to stop taking the knee as ‘degradinggesture ‘no longer enoughAvailable at: https://news.sky.com/story/wilfried-zaha-to-stop-taking-the-knee-as-degrading-gesture-no-longer-enough-12222539 (Accessed: 16 January 2022).

Sky News, (2021) Football fans split on whether taking a knee helps racism – survey. Available at: https://news.sky.com/story/amp/football-fans-split-on-whether-taking-a-knee-helps-tackle-racism-survey-12329006 (Accessed: 23 January 2022).

Concussions in women’s rugby: A cause for concern?

Authored by the ‘Team Unity’: Keaton Ager, Leah Bass, Laura Beet, Ethan Greenway, Meghan Hobbs, Daniel Hutchins and Chris Seymour-Henwood [E119 21J students].


This blog was written as part of a collaborative teamwork task by students studying E119. They had to select a topic and then decide on what roles each person would perform in the team, such as researcher, writer, editor, and leader. This blog was chosen as one of the best blogs from around 70 blogs that were produced.


In 2018, the Telegraph (Ellis, 2018) documented that women’s rugby is soaring in popularity. Almost 30,000 women and girls play rugby at club level, double the amount seen 4 years prior, with women now making up a quarter of players globally.

Increasing popularity brings in revenue, allowing governing bodies to provide additional funding into various aspects of the game, including research. With the higher revenue, research into the men’s game could be considered ‘the norm’, but more researchers are now looking into the women’s game and its positives and negatives – with concussions being one of the negatives.

What is a concussion and what is the research saying?

Physical differences between men and women seem to have an impact on the likelihood of concussions occurring. It is well documented that males are generally physically stronger than females. This point is echoed by Rugbypass’ Jess Hayden (2020), who states that although lower body strength between men and women is quite comparable, male rugby player’s upper body strength can typically be observed as three or four times greater than female players. This includes neck strength, which is a defining factor in concussions.

Dr Elisabeth Williams at Swansea University is a lead researcher into concussion in men’s and women’s rugby. Dr Williams (cited in Hayden, 2020) has found that a ‘whiplash’ motion is a leading cause of concussion in women’s rugby. So, what is a concussion? According to the Concussion Foundation (n.d.)…

A concussion is a brain injury occurring when the brain moves rapidly within the skull usually due to a blow to the head or body.

Research suggests (Neuro-Optometric Rehabilitation Association™ & PINK Concussions, n.d.) that concussions affect women and men differently, with women not only being at a higher risk of sport-related concussions, but also increased severity of symptoms as a result of concussion.

Neuro-Optometric Rehabilitation Association™ & PINK Concussions (n.d.) report that women often experience more severe and prolonged symptoms relating to:

  • Greater cognitive decline
  • Poorer reaction times
  • More frequent headaches
  • Extended periods of depression

Male and female brains differ both anatomically and chemically with female brains containing more delicate axons, a thin ‘cable’ that allows electrical impulses to pass from one neuron to others (The University of Queensland Australia, 2021). Lasting damage to neurons from concussion can lead to multiple issues, such as dizziness, vertigo, slower processing, memory loss, difficulty driving, focusing, and reading. Due to their axons being more delicate, females are more likely to damage these neuron connectors than males. This is one biological aspect that differentiates how each gender’s brains are affected by concussions.

Is neck strengthening the answer?

With biological and chemical differences altering concussions short- and long-term symptoms, is there any way women can help prevent concussion occurring?

Elaborating on Dr Elisabeth Williams’ (cited in Hayden, 2020) earlier point, she believes that there is a disparity in neck strength between men and women, stating that neck strength is “unfathomably low compared to men” resulting in women having less control over their heads during contact. This is one reason why the whiplash motion is so prominent in women’s rugby. According to Dr Williams (cited in Hayden, 2020), women naturally have less muscles and soft tissue in their necks than men. Whiplash initiated by head to ground or head to knee contact causes the brain to violently bounce around inside the skull.

More control over the head during contact can limit the whiplash motion reducing the probability of concussions occurring. Jess Hayden states that a senior player in the England Women’s Team informed her that they have been practising neck exercises to increase stability since 2014. This training has also been implemented by clubs in the Allianz Premier 15s.

Whilst neck strengthening can reduce the probability of a concussion happening as a result of whiplash, it will not prevent concussions altogether. Concussions are still prominent in the male game, with this type of injury being amongst the most common diagnoses. If disparities between neck strength alone defined whether a concussion happened, then in theory concussions should be less frequent in the men’s game. This, however, is not the case.

Dr Williams (cited in Hayden, 2020) believes neck strength needs to be a necessary part of women’s rugby training. With women’s rugby still developing and becoming more popular, many women do not start playing rugby until they reach university. Due to a lack of clubs at lower levels compared to the men’s game, Dr Williams (cited in Hayden, 2020) says that women grow up playing netball or football, even giving up sport, believing there is “nothing for them”. This means adult women often did not have the same opportunity to develop their skills over the years as men, including body positioning during contact. This could also play a part in the whiplash motion of the head, without the developed instinct to safely take contact and land.

Conclusion

For now, concussions pose a serious threat to female rugby players. However, the increasing popularity of women’s rugby will provide additional funding, allowing more research to be carried out on female players such as that being done by Dr Elisabeth Williams (cited in Hayden, 2020). Hopefully more research like hers will highlight areas of concern and make the game safer for all participants, especially since women tend to be more adversely affected by concussions. Also, with the growing popularity of the women’s game, there is potential for additional grassroots clubs to be founded. As a result, women will be able to develop essential awareness skills at a younger age where impacts are less forceful.

 

References

Concussion Foundation (n.d.) What is a Concussion? [Online]. Available at https://concussionfoundation.org/concussion-resources/what-is-concussion (Accessed 24 January 2022).

Ellis, S (2018) ‘How rugby can put a spring in your step’, The Telegraph, 8 June 2018 [Online]. Available at https://www.telegraph.co.uk/property/home-improvement-tips/benefits-of-rugby/ (Accessed 25 January 2022).

Hayden, J (2020) ‘Long-term brain damage likely a significantly bigger issue in women’s rugby than men’s, says lead concussion doctor’, Rugbypass, 14 December 2020 [Online]. https://www.rugbypass.com/news/long-term-brain-damage-could-be-a-significantly-bigger-issue-in-womens-rugby-than-mens-says-lead-concussion-doctor/ (Accessed 25 January 2022).

Neuro-Optometric Rehabilitation Association™ & PINK Concussions (n.d.) Women & Concussions [Online]. Available at http://ecp-uploads.s3.amazonaws.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/2704/2020/12/WomenConcussions_info.pdf (Accessed 24 January 2022).

The University of Queensland Australia (2021) Axons: the cable transmission of neurons [Online]. Available at https://qbi.uq.edu.au/brain/brain-anatomy/axons-cable-transmission-neurons (Accessed 25 January 2022).

How to have the best experience of studying sport at The Open University

By Simon Rea

Firstly, welcome to The Open University and secondly, thank you for choosing to study on the sport, fitness, and coaching degree. We have a range of fantastic courses for you to study to support you towards achieving a fulfilling career working in sport or fitness. During this turbulent year of 2020 it seems to me that sport has become even more important. Research has shown that fit and healthy people are less affected by Covid-19 and as a result we have   been encouraged to take daily exercise outdoors, and the fitness industry has seen a surge in people engaging with online fitness platforms. During this time I felt lost when there was no live sport for three months and like many others have binged on sport since its return.

As a sport and fitness student it is likely that you feel as passionate about sport and fitness as I do and in this blog I want to encourage you to make the most of your undergraduate studies. I want you to get the best value for the personal and financial investment you have undertaken and the sacrifices you may have to make. While sport and fitness offer a range of exciting careers and the opportunity to work with interesting and inspiring people the job market is highly competitive. Sport science, studies and sports coaching courses are now the most popular degree course in the UK with around 15,000 graduates a year leaving around 138 universities that offer these degrees. Indeed there are almost 1500 students enrolling, along with yourself, on year 1 sport and fitness modules at The Open University.

Therefore, it is advantageous to get ahead of this competition and give yourself as great an advantage for the future as you can. We appreciate that you have busy lives and finding time to study may not always be easy as you juggle work, family, and social commitments. These conflicting priorities can lead to students being tactical in how they study. To encourage you to make the absolute most of your time spent studying with us and to maximise your learning and enjoyment I will offer three pieces of advice for you to consider whilst studying.

 

  1. Engage with all the resources available to you and read as much as you can.

In your module materials you will find a range of resources. There are readings, audio and video clips to watch and listen to, websites to visit and activities to complete. We will also offer additional resources at certain points so that you can find out more. We would encourage you to learn as much as you can about the subjects you are studying by reading widely and visiting websites related to the subject. Social media offers a plethora of opportunities and you can follow experts and influencers that you are interested in. For example, Twitter enables you to follow coaches, personal trainers, and academics in sport.

 

 

  1. Engage with your tutor and your fellow students as much as possible.

Before you start your module you will be assigned a tutor and a tutor group. Your tutor will tell you how to contact them and you will be given information about the schedule of tutorials. You will also find out about your online tutor group forum where you can meet and interact with other students.

This engagement with other people is crucial to your understanding of the module materials as some of the most valuable learning is described as social learning where you learn from other people. Discussing and debating can give you different perspectives on a subject and hearing other student’s experiences can broaden your own understanding. This kind of learning will happen during tutorials and during collaborative tutor group forum activities. During the learning process it is vital that you do not accept all content without questioning it. Ask yourself – ‘where did this knowledge come from?’ ‘Are there other ways of doing things?’

Discussing, debating, and questioning will improve your understanding of a subject but it will also develop critical skills that are so crucial in higher education and valued by employers.

  1. Always keep in mind the question ‘How does this relate to me?’

While knowledge is exciting to have it is most valuable when you can actually apply it. This may be applying it to your own working practice or to help yourself and other people. So, you must always find opportunities to apply your knowledge. This may be reflecting on past experiences and gaining new perspectives on them or thinking about how you can use the knowledge now or in the future.

I have always found that when people know I am involved in sport science they have questions about their training or their diet. Let people know you are studying sport and fitness and talk to them about it and express your views if the opportunity arises. Sharing your knowledge with other people is a great way to increase your own knowledge and understanding of a subject.

 

Final thoughts

As I said earlier we appreciate that studying is just one factor amongst many competing for your time and it may be difficult to implement all three pieces of advice consistently. However, if you bear them in mind during your studies you will improve your chances of success both during your studies and in the future.

We hope you have a wonderful experience during your time studying sport, fitness, and coaching at The Open University.

 

Simon Rea is a Lecturer on the sport and fitness award at The Open University and the author of the books Careers in Sports Science (2019) and Sports Science – a complete introduction (2015).

A level playing field – Should Transgender athletes be allowed to compete in the category that matches their gender identity in the 2020 Olympics?

By  Rachael Pugh, Hannah Lake, Sula Douglas, Daniel Breacher and Ryan Williams (E119 19J Students)


This blog was written as part of a collaborative team work task by students studying E119. They had to select a topic and then decide on what roles each person would perform in the team, such as researcher, writer, editor and leader. This blog was chosen as one of the best blogs from around 80 blogs that were produced.


 

The participation of transgender athletes in Olympic competition raises issues not just about sport regulations but of society’s overall attitudes to gender. The whole subject of transgender people can still be divisive and misunderstood in our society. Many people have limited or no contact with transgender people, this can cloud their judgement leading to fear and rumours. From anger over which bathroom people can use, to which clothing a child gets to wear, it is a contentious subject. Transgender participation in sport is a complex issue and may well become more so in the future with the rise of gender neutrality. Sport has long had issues of discrimination and many sports’ governing bodies are working hard to provide fairness and reduce discrimination. Sport in general and the International Olympic Committee in particular, needs to find a way to make participation fair for everyone; transgender athletes as well as cisgender athletes.

One of the main points involved in this discussion is providing equality and equal opportunity for everyone. By excluding transgender athletes from participating in high level events such as the Olympics, we are not promoting equal opportunity. When looking at transgender participation not only high-level athletes need to be considered. Young people often look to athletes as role models. One role model is Laurel Hubbard, a transgender weightlifter, who transitioned from male to female.  After her transition, she went on to successfully compete in the commonwealth games, achieving a record breaking performance in the women’s weightlifting category (Brown, 2018). Kristi Miller, a transgender athlete and activist stated, “Hopefully Laurel’s given some hope to some young trans kid sitting around the world” (Davidson, 2018). Having visible transgender role models for young transgender people is very important – it gives the young people someone to look up to and as a consequence, helps to promote participation in sport for everyone.

However, Laurel’s wins and participation have created some controversy amongst other female competitors and their coaches. Jerry Wallwork, Head Coach for the Samoa weightlifting team said, “A man is a man and a woman is a woman and I know a lot of changes have gone through, but in the past Laurel Hubbard used to be a male champion weightlifter” (Davidson, 2018). Wallwork’s comments illustrate the issue of how gender is viewed in society and how often transgender people are not accepted. If more transgender athletes were allowed to compete – this would result in society being exposed to more transgender people in the media.  This exposure would allow them to become more accepted and allow young transgender people to be inspired and participate in sport.

Conversely, there is the issue of fairness for female athletes – how being transgender may give athletes an advantage over other female competitors particularly in the case of Laurel Hubbard who used to compete as a male weightlifter.  “The athletic advantage that Hubbard herself gleaned suggests as much. As a man, the Kiwi scarcely registered in the sport at international level. Today, as a woman, she is a world-beater,” (Brown, 2018).

Currently athletes who have transitioned from female to male can compete without restriction (BBC, 2019). However, for an athlete who has transitioned from male to female it is much more difficult. This is mainly because officials are trying to make it fair for all the female cisgender competitors and there are many physiological differences between males and females. These physiological differences are why we have separate male and female categories in sport in the first place. On average women have two thirds the strength of men, have smaller bones and a lower oxygen carrying capacity (Latham, 2018). The benefits of these physiological differences mean that men are usually stronger, faster and bigger. Not all of these physiological differences can be managed in the medical transitional process, therefore some of the advantages of being born male, remain in the transgender athlete.

When examining the difference between male and female bodies the issue of testosterone is often discussed. In order for a transgender athlete to compete as a female the IOC guideline from 2015 states “the total testosterone level in serum must be kept below ten nanomoles per litre for at least 12 months” (Ingle, 2019) however this is controversial as “women’s testosterone levels tend to range between 0.12 and 1.79 nmol/l, while men’s are typically between 7.7 to 29.4 nmol/l.” (Ingle, 2019). This means that transgender athletes, even those following the IOC Guidelines, could have testosterone levels up to 5 times higher than most female athletes. Higher levels of testosterone increase muscle mass and reduce fatigue both of which are important when competing at a high level of sport (Pietrangelo, 2016).

Many high profile athletes feel passionately about the potential damage to female sport when transgender athletes compete. Sharon Davies, the internationally renowned and celebrated swimmer, said ““I believe there is a fundamental difference between the binary sex you are born with and the gender you may identify as. To protect women’s sport, those with a male sex advantage should not be able to compete in women’s sport.” (Ingle, 2020). These higher levels of testosterone and other physiological advantages mean that cisgender women could have a disadvantage when competing against transgender women.

To conclude, on the one hand society now recognises peoples’ right to change gender however it is very difficult to create a level playing field in some areas and competitive sport is very much one of these. The question of how transgender people compete in Olympic events raises issues of equality of opportunity and fairness of competition. The sports’ governing bodies are attempting to address the issues of physical fairness through regulation but this is not a straight forward process. Scientific development may be ahead of society’s ability to regulate for its consequences in this area. Given the diversity of genders and people in our society this may be an area for adapting and compromising in 2020 and beyond.

 

REFERENCES

Davidson, H (2018) Transgender weightlifter Laurel Hubbard’s eligibility under scrutiny (Online) The Guardian. Available at https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2018/apr/09/transgender-weightlifter-laurel-hubbards-eligibility-under-scrutiny (Accessed 28 January 2020)

Latham, A (2018). Physiological difference between male and female athletes. (online). (last updated 28 June 2018). Available at: https://work.chron.com/physiological-differences-between-male-female-athletes-20627.html (Accessed 27 January 2020)

Pietrangelo, A (2016) How testosterone benefits your body (Online)  Healthline. Available at https://www.healthline.com/health/benefits-testosterone (Accessed 29 January 2020)

Brown, O (2018). Transgender weightlifter under strain: Laurel Hubbard’s exit may be blessing in disguise as eligibility debate rages (Online) The Telegraph. Available at https://www.telegraph.co.uk/weightlifting/2018/04/09/transgender-weightlifter-strain-laurel-hubbards-exit-may-blessing/ (Accessed 29 Jan, 2020)

Ingle, S. (2019). IOC delays new transgender guidelines after scientists fail to agree. [online] The Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2019/sep/24/ioc-delays-new-transgender-guidelines-2020-olympics [Accessed 28 January 2020].

Eliud Kipchoge: Breaking Barriers

By Sean Byrne, Sam Cross, Anthony Delaney, Ashley Groombridge, Katie Hickson, Louis Hunter (E119 19J Students)


This blog was written as part of a collaborative team work task by students studying E119. They had to select a topic and then decide on what roles each person would perform in the team, such as researcher, writer, editor and leader. This blog was chosen as one of the best blogs from around 80 blogs that were produced.


 

 On the 12th October 2019, Eliud Kipchoge, the current marathon world record holder, became the first person to run the marathon distance under two hours (1.59.40). This incredible accomplishment has been hailed as one of the most monumental milestones in running history, alongside Sir Roger Bannister’s sub 4-minute mile and Usain Bolt’s 9.58 100 metre sprint world record.

So how did he achieve this remarkable feat? Natural talent, dedication and a gruelling training programme, with 140 miles per week, are the understandable foundations of success. Indubitably, the support from an assembled team of skilled coaches, physiotherapists, physiologists and nutritionists overseeing his training, physiological testing, hydration and nutrition strategies (INEOS159challenge , 2019) contributed immensely but what specifically turned his previous failings at the Nike Breaking2 Project, into triumph?

Course selection

The Pater, Vienna, Austria was selected as the perfect location. As one would expect, the route was carefully chosen to eliminate any directional or incline changes to maximise the runners’ economy but Team INEOS’ analysis didn’t stop there. They also considered the altitude and climate; low temperatures (around ten degrees Celsius is considered the benchmark) and low humidity is conducive to running a fast marathon due to the body working harder to regulate its temperature in hot conditions (Sharkey & Gaskill, 2013). It is also believed that running shoes lose grip during humid conditions. (INOES159challenge, 2019). The location also had to be at low altitude, even though Kipchoge lives and trains at high altitude (2400m), science suggests preparing at altitude enables the body to be better conditioned (Fudge, et al., 2018) and racing at a lower altitude whilst acclimated to high altitude will see an increase in performance (Fudge, et al., 2018)The final factor in choosing the location was the time zone difference, Vienna is just one hour behind Eliud’s home time zone- which means his sleeping, eating and training patterns would be minimally affected.

Hydration and Nutrition

 As anticipated, running a marathon requires an enormous amount of energy, this energy is provided by fat and carbohydrates, metabolised aerobically. Fat is supplied from the muscle triglyceride and plasma free fatty acids (FFA), that are mobilised from adipose tissue and transported to the muscles by the circulation (Sharkey & Gaskill, 2013).  Fat is the most abundant source of available energy – enough to fuel muscles to run hundreds of miles but it is slow to break down (Wright, 2018), therefore, as the intensity level increases so does the carbohydrate usage, becoming predominant at high levels of intensity (Sharkey & Gaskill, 2013) i.e. running a marathon at pace.  Carbohydrate is available as glucose in the bloodstream and is also stored in skeletal muscles and the liver as glycogen (Girard Eberle, 2014). Kipchoge’s carbohydrates were topped up during the race by consuming sports drinks and energy gels produced by Maurten (Maurten, 2019).

Rehydrating during the marathon is crucial, dehydration in excess of five per cent of an athlete’s bodyweight results in a decrease in strength, endurance and work capacity (Sharkey & Gaskill, 2013). The ASCM et al. (2016) state that even though exact sweat rates vary from athlete to athlete, most athletes partaking in exercise will require an intake of 0.4 – 0.8 litres of water every hour. Kipchoge rehydrated by drinking Maurten sports drinks, a benefit of consuming a sports drink over water, is that sports drinks contain electrolytes including sodium and potassium – minerals that are crucial for the control of the flow of water in and out of cells and are vital to ensure fluid retention. Furthermore, research has shown that isotonic drinks can be absorbed faster than water alone (Wright, 2018).

Pacemakers

Sir Roger Bannister’s name is entrenched in running history, his exploit legendary yet he couldn’t have achieved the remarkable feat without being paced by friends and teammates. Eliud Kipchoge also enlisted the help of teammates, forty-one of the world’s best middle and long-distance runners to be precise (INEOS159challenge, 2019). These runners rotated at the end of each six-mile lap, followed an electric car with adapted cruise control for greater accuracy. The car projected a laser beam onto the road to keep the runners on the required pace. After extensive aerodynamic research conducted at TU Eindhoven, the pacemakers ran in a reversed V shape, with two runners running behind him, this led to a 85% reduction in air resistance (Eindhoven University of Technology, 2019).

The controversial running shoes

Nike created a bespoke, improved version of their previous Vaporfly Next% running shoes – the AlphaFLY. The AlphaFLY have four chambers containing pressurised fluid, three carbon plates and ZoomX – a lightweight foam, providing cushioning (Roe, 2019). Nike claim the shoes improve running economy by four percent and this claim has been verified by an independent study (Barnes & Kilding, 2019). A variation of the shoe has been worn by the top 10 finishers in the mens’ race at the Chicago Marathon, the following day. In addition, Brigid Kosgei, who broke Paula Radcliffe’s long standing women’s marathon world record in Chicago, also wore the shoe. Subsequently, a group of athletes complained to the IAAF about the shoes, prompting them to establish a working group to analysis the issue.

Spectators

After evaluating the Breaking2 Project’s failed attempt at Monza Racetrack, Italy, Kipchoge bemoaned the lack of spectators to support his phenomenal effort. Positive support from spectators can lead to increased performance (Lavellee, et al., 2012). During his attempt at the INEOS 1:59 Challenge, the route was lined by masses of supporters cheering him to greatness.

Unfortunately, his Herculean effort is not recognised as a marathon world record by the IAAF, due to the delivery of hydration and nutrition by bicycle, lack of open competition and rotating world class runners, working as pacemakers (BBC, 2019) but now the barrier has been broken, it’s only a matter of time before an athlete runs sub two hours during a race.

References

American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), 2016. American Dietetic Association (ADA) and Dieticians of Canada (DC) (2016) Joint Position Statement, ‘Nutrition and athletic performance. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 48(3), p. 543–568.

Barnes, K. R. & Kilding, A. E., 2019. A Randomized Crossover Study Investigating the Running Economy of Highly-Trained Male and Female Distance Runners in Marathon Racing Shoes versus Track Spikes., Bethesda MD: National Center for Biotechnology Information.

BBC, 2019. Eliud Kipchoge breaks two-hour marathon mark by 20 seconds. [Online]
Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/athletics/50025543
[Accessed 27 January 2020].

Eindhoven University of Technology, 2019. TU/e wind tunnel helped break the marathon’s two-hour barrier. [Online]
Available at: https://www.tue.nl/en/news/news-overview/tue-wind-tunnel-helped-break-the-marathons-two-hour-barrier/#top [Accessed 27 January 2020].

Fudge, B., Pringle, J., Maxwell, N. & Richardson, A., 2018. Altitude training in endurance running: perceptions of elite athletes and support staff. Journal of Sports Sciences, 37(2), pp. 163-172.

INEOS159challenge , 2019. Eluid’s Team. [Online]
Available at: https://www.ineos159challenge.com/team/eliuds-team/
[Accessed 26 January 2020].

INEOS159challenge, 2019. Pacemakers. [Online]
Available at: https://www.ineos159challenge.com/team/pacemakers/
[Accessed 26 January 2020].

INOES159challenge, 2019. Why Vienna proved to be the outstanding candidate to host the Ineos 1:59 Challenge?. [Online]
Available at: https://www.ineos159challenge.com/news/why-vienna-proved-to-be-the-outstanding-candidate-to-host-the-ineos-1-59-challenge/
[Accessed 27 January 2020].

Lavellee, D., Kremer, J., Moran, A. & Williams, M., 2012. Sport Psychology: Contemporary Themes. 2nd ed. London: Red Globe Press.

Maurten, 2019. SHOP SPORTS FUEL. [Online]
Available at: https://www.maurten.com/products/gb
[Accessed 27 January 202].

Roe, D., 2019. Everything We Know About Eliud Kipchoge’s Barrier Breaking Shoes. [Online]
Available at: https://www.runnersworld.com/gear/a29447426/eliud-kipchoge-shoes/
[Accessed 27 January 2020].

Sharkey, B. J. & Gaskill, S. E., 2013. Fitness & Health. 7th ed. Champaign: Human Kinetics.

Wright, N., 2018. Unit 29 How nutrition fuels the athlete’s body. [Online]
Available at: https://learn2.open.ac.uk/mod/oucontent/view.php?id=1287358
(Accessed 18 May 2019).

 

Can surfing improve mental health?

By Chris Bodell, Jennifer Brand, Archie Collins, Paul Downing, Charlie Edwards and Clare Elliott (E119 19J Students)


This blog was written as part of a collaborative team work task by students studying E119. They had to select a topic and then decide on what roles each person would perform in the team, such as researcher, writer, editor and leader. This blog was chosen as one of the best blogs from around 80 blogs that were produced.


So, can surfing help improve our mental health? Let’s take a look and see how it turned
Jessica Cox’s’ life around.

Jessica Cox revealed in an interview with the BBC (2018) that she had suffered from numerous mental health issues throughout her life including anxiety, family bereavement, post- natal depression and bullying. She explains that she got in with the wrong crowd from an early age of 11, leading to drug and alcohol issues.”I would absolutely say I was at a turning point where if I had got in one more bit of trouble at school I would have been expelled; if I had got arrested one more time I would have got taken into juvenile prison.” (BBC, 2018)

Jessica says the sea saved her and has turned her life around. Jessica sourced a board and
wetsuit and began surfing, “You feel afterwards the feelings of vibrancy and life; it is
unexplainable. You’re just at one with nature, and nature never judges you” (BBC, 2018).
Jessica went on to gain qualifications to teach people to surf, spreading her love of surfing.
“You can feel tired of life and all the things that are going on, and you get into the water and
it literally washes the anxiety away… you feel this release,” (BBC 2018).

Seeing first-hand the positive effects the sea and surfing can have on the mind, mixing the
calming nature of the ocean with the physiological benefits of surfing, Jessica took her
experiences and knowledge and founded Sirens. Sirens offers surfing lessons and retreats to
women of all ages and abilities. They work with other charities to reach out to vulnerable
women and organise community events aimed at people suffering with mental health
conditions, it allows people to get involved in yoga and even learn how to surf. Sirens is a nonprofit organisation meaning that any profits made go back into the company, making them
able to offer their services to disadvantaged or vulnerable women and girls.

You can find out more about Jessica’s own journey, along with her journey helping others by
visiting: https://www.inspiresirens.org/

There are many examples on how mixing the benefits of the physical activity of surfing and
being in the ocean are having positive effects on a person’s mental wellbeing!
The Wave Project is a community interest company that aims to change young people’s lives
through surfing, it started as a NHS funded project where 20 young people, diagnosed with a
range of mental health disorders, met on the beach for a surfing lesson. After surfing
participants felt less angry, calmer and more connected with one another. One person who
had been diagnosed with selective mutism even began speaking freely again! The wave
project has over 900 volunteers and has joined 6 other surf therapy programmes around the
world to form the International Surf Therapy Organisation (ISTO)! (Waveproject, 2020).
An initiative called Blue Health analysed 35 scientific studies of how blue spaces, i.e. ocean,
lakes etc, benefit our health and wellbeing. They found that interaction with blue spaces has
a positive effect on mental health, especially reducing stress.

One study that blue health completed involved using technology to bring 360-degree videos
using a virtual reality headset to those where natural blue spaces were inaccessible. This
technology was also able benefit elderly or disabled people or those with certain medical
conditions (Bluehealth, 2020).

The Blue Mind Theory explains the mildly meditative state we enter when we are in, near or
under water, comparative to the Red mind state which describes our state of mind while
suffering from mental health problems. Scientists are evaluating the physical and
“Siren’s aim to offer a supportive, all female environment where you can be inspired by your own abilities, other women, and the environment that surrounds us.” (sirens, 2017).

When researching the psychological effects of water, they found that being by the coast leads to an improved sense of physical health and well-being. Livni (2018) states that “contact with the water induces the meditative state that makes us happier, healthier, calmer, more creative and
more capable of awe”.

“The idea water is medicine will be mainstream within 10 years” (Nicholls, W. 2015).

Surfertoday, a surfing magazine is aimed at current and prospective surfers and promotes the
health and physiological benefits of surfing, but may well be biased. But as we can see earlier
in the blog, there is research and real-life evidence showing: –
“Surfing not only improves your physical fitness, but it also clears your mind and acts as an
emotional stabilizer. Its Zen effect soothes the mind and balances your emotion’s. Those who
actively engage in surfing, know that it reduces stress, boosts our mood, and even helps us
overcome loss nor grief.” (Surfertoday, 2020).

For more information about how surfing can improve your mental health, visit Surfertoday’s
article at: https://www.surfertoday.com/surfing/how-surfing-improves-your-mental-health

Competing in Saudi Arabia: A Moral Controversy

By Lucy Kafourous-Smith, Daniel Morrison, Sam Hughes, Kyle Murray, Sean Gilfillan, Rebecca Murphy and Sam Hughes-Finn (E119 19J Students)


This blog was written as part of a collaborative team work task by students studying E119. They had to select a topic and then decide on what roles each person would perform in the team, such as researcher, writer, editor and leader. This blog was chosen as one of the best blogs from around 80 blogs that were produced.


 

Vision 2030: Saudi Arabia’s ambitious, pervasive overhaul of its economy and society put into motion since 2016. It paints a picture of a nation keen to refurbish its global image and integrate itself with the western world – no small feat considering its historical rejection of western culture, and strict implementation of Islamic laws and values. Aggressive investment into sport has particularly attracted mass media interest as the nation strikes deals for world-class events, such as the boxing rematch of Anthony Joshua and Andy Ruiz Jr held in December 2019, the European Tour for golf, as well as F1 gearing up for Saudi participation in the coming years. The speed at which entirely new venues are being constructed for these events, also reflects the extent of this ambition. Construction of the Diriyah arena for Joshua v Ruiz began a mere two months before the fight.

However, the kingdom’s political track record has roused many sceptics and caused a controversial backlash. Sporting organisations and athletes are facing waves of scrutiny, often being accused of supporting the ambitions of a nation that has an extensive list of human rights abuses under its belt. Human rights group Amnesty International (2019) describes such acts including – but not limited to – repressing government critics, and human rights campaigners with prison sentences; extensive use of the death penalty and state-imposed torture for conduct that isn’t recognised as crime under international law; and continued discrimination against women, LGBTI groups, and the Shi’a Muslim minority. Not to forget the widely reported murder of Arabian journalist Jamal Kashoggi in Istanbul back in 2018, for which the Saudi government were held responsible (Aljazerra News, 2019). Amnesty’s critique resulted in them coining the term ‘sportswashing’ to describe the perceived attempt to use high-profile sport to furnish over these offences. Despite that, purely focusing on historical events would limit the chance of successful future sporting events, and any positive cultural change, however uncomfortable the decision may be.

Prior to his fight, Anthony Joshua was interviewed on the decision to fight in Saudi Arabia, where he simply stated: “My only focus is just the boxing”, but incited scrutiny by commenting that “the country is trying to do a good job politically”(BBC 2019). It would seem he desires to stay politically neutral and is happy to fight and promote his sport wherever it may take him. However, when asked about the possibility of ‘sportswashing’, he replied: “…I would be bothered” (BBC, 2019). He also admits that the decision to fight in Saudi Arabia was a collective one taken by his organizers, as well as his promotor, Eddie Hearn, admitting that the choice to fight there was primarily motivated by the sizable financial offer, leading many to believe that he is being manipulated by money.

Conversely, golfing superstars Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods opted out of participating in the Saudi-hosted European Tour, but state that their decision was not politically influenced. Despite this, McIlroy commented that: “…there’s a morality to it as well” (The Guardian, 2019) but makes the interesting point that there are other countries with political stains where these events are held. Woods notably defended golf’s participation in Saudi Arabia by saying: “I understand the politics behind it but also golf can help heal a lot of that too” (Gray, 2019). Interestingly, Woods turned down a $3m appearance fee offer (Gray, 2019), and McIlroy refused to deny that a similar offer of $2.5m was made to him (The Guardian, 2019), causing many to raise sceptical eyebrows at the copious financial offers in place to persuade key players to simply participate.

In football, the Spanish Super Cup has gone as far as significantly changing its format for the foreseeable future as it holds its next innings in Saudi Arabia. Moving from a 2-team to a 4-team line-up and holding the event in January instead of the pre-season Summer, caused a stir. Yet again, the main motivation for such a shift is believed to be the amount of money flowing. As stated by the BBC (2020) the Spanish media reported a yearly worth of 40m euros. Despite Barcelona benefitting from a 6m-euro cash-in, the team’s coach, Ernesto Valverde, expressed discontent as he preferred the old format from a sporting point of view, and affirms that the 6m offer was the deciding factor for the change (BBC, 2020). However, this deal came with the condition that women were allowed to attend the event – an intriguing outcome from a country that has typically segregated women. Similarly, the Italian Suppercoppa showed positive developments, by allowing women to enter the stadium, albeit form the family enclosures only (Burnton, 2019). But this move signalled the start of culture change, which would allow women the same rights as men, even if it is for a 90-minute game of football.

Formula 1 also has its sights set with a $50m per year Grand Prix deal on the table which could kick off as early as 2021, with a purpose-built circuit being constructed for 2022 (Benson, 2020). Mcevoy (2020) identifies The Grand Prix event is no stranger to countries with unfavourable human rights records as it has previously been hosted by the likes of Abu Dhabi, Russia, and China, but it attempts to deflect criticism by insisting that it is politically neutral. Part of the “vision 2030” plan includes Saudi Arabia holding the desert round of the new Extreme E championships -electric off-road SUV (Auto sport 2019). Criticism to holding it here is defended by its founder, Alejandro Agag, who supports the positive changes occurring in Saudi Arabia, and how it can help strengthen the sporting pillar of vison 2030.

With a variety of perspectives to consider, we may justifiably ponder if the Saudi government is heart-felt in redeeming itself from past mistakes, or if they are leveraging their great wealth to simply ‘gloss over’ its most fundamental flaws. Regarding the athletes themselves, do we judge them as aiding a possibly dishonest regime change, or do we praise them for attempting to bring positivity, and culture to a troubled country?

Reference list

Aljazerra News (2019) ‘Khashoggi’s murder: one year on, here’s what we know’, Aljazerra, 1 October [Blog]. Available at https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/09/year-jamal-khashoggi-murder-190930100740798.html (Accessed 6 January 2020).

Amnesty International (2018) Saudi Arabia 2018 [online]. Available at https://www.amnesty.org/en/countries/middle-east-and-north-africa/saudi-arabia/report-saudi-arabia/ (Accessed on 6 January 2020).

BBC (2019) ‘Joshua v Ruiz II: Anthony Joshua responds to ‘sportswashing” Saudi human rights claims’, BBC, 5 December [Blog]. Available at https://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/boxing/50633807 (Accessed 7 January 2020).

BBC (2019) ‘Joshua v Ruiz II: 15,000-seat Diriyah Arena venue revealed’, BBC, 26 November [Blog]. Available at https://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/boxing/50557116 (Accessed 8 January 2020).

BBC (2019) ‘Spanish Super Cup – who, why and where?’, BBC, 8 January, [Blog]. Available at https://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/football/51013150 (Accessed 8 January 2020).

BBC (2019) ‘Spanish Super Cup: We are in Saudi Arabia because of money, says Barcelona boss Valverde’, BBC 8 January, [Blog]. Available at https://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/football/51042079 (Accessed 8 January 2020).

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Three things you can do to make the most of your studies

By Simon Rea

Firstly, welcome to The Open University and I hope you enjoy your studies with us. You have started on an exciting path of study and hopefully a rewarding future career. There are great opportunities to work in grass roots sport, performance sport, health and fitness, coaching and teaching and exercise science. However, sport and fitness courses are now one of the most popular undergraduate courses studied at university. There are now over 80 higher education institutions offering degrees and around 15,000 students graduating every year. While there are good jobs available the competition is very strong even before you consider the number of students studying for Masters degrees and PhDs.

Employers recognise that Open University students have to show special skills to organise their busy lives, hold down a job and plan their studies. However, that may not be enough to make you stand out from the crowd when it comes to applying for jobs. You need to be competitive in the job market and this may involve you showing skills beyond those of achieving a degree.

Between 2017 and 2019 I interviewed over 20 people currently working in sport and fitness occupations to find out what skills and qualities are needed to work effectively in sport and fitness roles. Many of the respondents explained how sport and fitness environments can be complex and challenging. This is because they involve people but also people who are goal directed and often high achievers. Sports environments tend to be highly pressurised and constantly changing and you need particular skills to navigate through them. You need to have skills to work with people who may be your colleagues or your clients. Being able to develop and maintain relationships is central to your success in sport and fitness.

In this blog I offer three tips that will help to improve your employability and effectiveness when you are in the workplace.

1. Get as much experience as you can from wherever you can.

Everyone I interviewed stressed the importance of gaining experience. All experience of working with people is valuable because you can then learn about your communication, listening and other personal skills. However, the main reason is that it is the best way to develop skills that are needed in the workplace. The only way to show an employer that you can do a job is by showing them that you have done it before. If you have spent the previous three or more years studying, then you can show that you have the knowledge but there is no evidence that you will be able to apply it in real life situations.

Experience can come from work experience placements or internships or you can volunteer at local sports clubs and offer to help. This may involve setting up equipment, helping with timings or preparing and handling out drinks. Once you are in a sports environment there may be opportunities to share your knowledge with coaches and athletes.

In addition to gaining experience you also need to be able to learn from your experiences by reflecting or reviewing them. This can be done by asking yourself reflective questions or discussing your performance with other people. This reflective approach is covered in module E119.

2. Gain as much knowledge as you can about as many disciplines in sports science as possible.

While I said that knowledge alone may not get you a job it is still incredibly important when working in sport and fitness. The study of sport is multidisciplinary in that it involves anatomy and physiology, exercise physiology, sport psychology, biomechanics, nutrition as well as research skills. During your studies with us you will cover all these disciplines and also learn about coaching and instructional skills. However, due to the wide scope of your studies you may not cover everything in detail. Firstly, I would encourage you to engage with all the module resources and further reading where it is suggested but also read widely in relevant textbooks, journal articles and respected websites. Listen to as many sports related podcasts and watch programmes that can contribute to your learning.

By taking in as much knowledge as you can you will start to learn about the range of occupations in sport and fitness and the knowledge that different specialists will have. In performance sport the support team may be made up of exercise physiologists, sport psychologists, performance analysts, strength and conditioning coaches, nutritionists and it is important to understand what these people are saying so that you can develop working relationships with them. As a fitness trainer you may be called upon to advise on nutrition and psychology as well as training methods and the more you know about these disciplines the greater credibility you will have.

3. Find opportunities to share your knowledge.

One way to gain experience and apply your new-found knowledge is to offer advice and support to friends and family. You need to remember that most people don’t know about things we may consider to be basic, such as how to stretch, how to train effectively and what to eat. There are also a lot of fallacies or misunderstandings about the best way to train and recover and you can provide the science to address these.

As you progress in your studies you will be able to offer advice to people. For example, you may have a friend who wants to run a half marathon, complete the London to Brighton cycle ride or start training at the gym. You can let them know that you are studying sport and fitness and would like to advise them. You could write a blog about what you have been doing and make social media posts about their progress. This may lead to other people asking for your advice.

This type of activity is useful as a learning experience and also understanding how your new-found knowledge can be put into practice. It may mimic the type of work you will do in the future and be something that you could discuss in an interview.

These three things will help to enhance your employability skills and bring your knowledge to life.

This article is based on content from Simon’s recently published book Careers in Sports Science. In this book Simon Rea presents the findings of 20 interviews with people working in sports science roles. This includes the personal skills needed to work in sport and more advice about how to develop these skills. This book is available as a paperback or eBook at www.simonreasportscience.co.uk or through the Amazon bookstore search ‘Careers in Sports Science’.