Tokyo 2020 in 2021: Do the best things come to those who wait?

By Caroline Heaney

The life of an Olympic or Paralympic athlete is characterised by highly planned and structured 4-year cycles designed to lead to peak performance in Olympic/Paralympic year, but what happens when that cycle unexpectedly stretches to 5 years and is threaded with uncertainty?

Image by Gerhard G. from Pixabay

The COVID-19 pandemic created an unprecedented situation with Tokyo 2020 being the first Olympic/Paralympic Games to be cancelled or postponed since the Second World War. The postponed 2021 games will likely be a different experience to previous games with, for example, no spectators at most events (BBC, 2021) and a scaled down opening ceremony (Telegraph Sport, 2021). So, what effect does the postponement have on the athletes and their preparation? This article will explore some of the psychological and physiological impacts of this unusual situation.

What impact did the postponement have?

Obviously, there is variability in how athletes reacted to the postponement of the Olympics/Paralympics in 2020, but feelings of disappointment, frustration, confusion, and uncertainty seemed to be common (Taku and Arai, 2020). For example, in response to the announcement that the Olympics would be postponed British Olympic Taekwondo champion Jade Jones stated:

“I’m truly gutted – you give your heart and soul to something for four years, then for it not to go ahead is just horrible. Obviously, health comes first, […] but as an elite athlete, it is very demotivating and mentally tough. I’m a very positive person but the idea, right now, of having to devote myself to another year’s slog is a very difficult one” (BBC, 2020).

As well as the impact of the games being postponed, the lockdowns also had a significant impact on athletes and their preparations from both a psychological and physiological perspective. Lockdowns and the associated quarantine has been shown to have a negative impact on the mental health of the general population (Henssler et al., 2021) and elite athletes are not immune to this. Elite athletes were found to experience increased symptoms of mental health difficulties (e.g. depression) during COVID-19 lockdowns (Simons et al., 2021). As such the need for psychological intervention to support athletes is paramount (Reardon et al., 2021).

The impact on the training schedules of athletes was also significant. During the first UK lockdown, for example, many training venues were closed, and consequently many athletes lost face to face contact with their coaches and teammates and were forced to train alone in sub-optimal conditions. Research has shown that there was a reduction in the quality of training and sleep for many athletes (Mon-López et al., 2020), which could lead to a detraining effect and loss of fitness as well as an increased risk of injury (Sarto et al., 2020). To prevent these potential effects, athletes and coaches were required to be creative with their training sessions and develop innovative training programmes away from normal training venues.

Athletes who successfully managed to maintain their fitness ready to peak for a 2021 Olympics/Paralympics were faced with further difficulties when it came to qualifying for the games. Many qualifying tournaments and competitions were cancelled due to COVID-19 giving athletes far fewer opportunities to qualify.

For many, participating in an Olympic or Paralympic Games is a once in a lifetime opportunity and a postponed games may well make that opportunity unavailable for some, such as those who were at their peak in 2020, but injured or retired in 2021.

The ones who didn’t make it…

Postponing the Tokyo Olympics/Paralympics meant that some athletes who would have been there in 2020 didn’t make it to the 2021 Games. Retiring athletes are one example. It is common for athletes to retire after an Olympic/Paralympic Games and many athletes approaching the end of their career might having been looking at the 2020 games as their final swansong. The pandemic left these athletes with a difficult decision – hang on for one more year or bow out now. Some, such as Japanese volleyball player Risa Shinnabe and New Zealand cyclist Eddie Dawkins, chose to retire in 2020. Shinnabe said:

“That one year, to me, felt very long […] I could no longer imagine that I would be able to go through the same cycle for another year and maintain my condition” (Rowbottom, 2021).

The ones who hung on…

Those who decided to hang on include Olympic gymnastics champion Simone Biles who had originally planned to retire after the Olympics in 2020 but has decided to postpone her retirement. In fact, Biles is now considering continuing to the 2024 Olympics. She is not alone in this, with some athletes deciding that another three-year cycle is not as daunting as a four-year cycle. As Paralympic volleyball player Lora Webster puts it “three years seems like nothing when you look back on what these five years have felt like” (Radnofsky, 2021). These athletes seem to have benefited from the delay and they are not alone.

The ones who benefitted…

There are many athletes who appear to have benefitted from the postposed games. Take for example, an athlete who was injured in 2020 and would have missed the games, but now has the opportunity to compete. In many ways 2020 was the best time for an athlete to be injured as the entire world of sport effectively stopped for a while.

2020 also provided athletes with a unique opportunity to take a break from the physiological and psychological stresses of elite sport. This will likely have benefitted many athletes giving them a chance to recover and rejuvenate. The pandemic also allowed athletes to develop important skills such as resilience.

Tokyo: The games of the resilient athlete?

Resilience is considered to be an important quality in athletes, and those who have come through a pandemic and successfully qualified for the delayed games have certainly had the opportunity to demonstrate resilience. It will perhaps be the athletes who have the best skills in this area and have been able to adapt and thrive in this unprecedented situation that will rise to the top of the podium this year. Researchers exploring resilience have identified that the COVID-19 pandemic has created unexpected and novel adverse experiences for athletes and that resilience can help athletes to adapt positively (Gupta and McCarthy, 2021).

There has certainly been evidence of athletes demonstrating a positive approach. For example, in response to finding out that the games had been postponed, reigning Olympic champion swimmer Lily King posted on social media “Just one more year to get better #Tokyo2020” (Klosok and Church, 2020).

Let’s hope that such positivity and optimism will lead to a spectacular summer of Olympic and Paralympic performances.

References

BBC (2020) Tokyo 2020: How athletes reacted to Olympic Games postponement. Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/olympics/52027542  (Accessed: 12 July 2021).

BBC (2021) Tokyo Olympics: Spectators largely barred as Covid emergency declared. Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-57760883  (Accessed: 12 July 2021).

Gupta, S. and McCarthy, P. J. (2021) ‘Sporting Resilience During COVID-19: What Is the Nature of This Adversity and How Are Competitive Elite Athletes Adapting?’, Frontiers in Psychology, 12(374).

Henssler, J., Stock, F., van Bohemen, J., Walter, H., Heinz, A. and Brandt, L. (2021) ‘Mental health effects of infection containment strategies: quarantine and isolation—a systematic review and meta-analysis’, European Archives of Psychiatry and Clinical Neuroscience, 271(2), pp. 223-234.

Klosok, A. and Church, B. (2020) Athletes come to terms with ‘heartbreaking’ Tokyo 2020 postponement. Available at: https://edition.cnn.com/2020/03/25/sport/athletes-reaction-tokyo-2020-olympics-postpone-spt-intl/index.html  (Accessed: 12 July 2021).

Mon-López, D., García-Aliaga, A., Ginés Bartolomé, A. and Muriarte Solana, D. (2020) ‘How has COVID-19 modified training and mood in professional and non-professional football players?’, Physiology & Behavior, 227, pp. 113148.

Radnofsky, L. (2021) ‘Athletes Who Waited for the Tokyo Olympics Are Asking: Why Not Stick Around for Paris 2024, Too? After a long wait for this summer’s Games, some old hands who had planned to retire are figuring they can also hang on another three years’, Wall Street Journal (Online), 04/11/2021 Apr 11. Available at: https://www.wsj.com/articles/simone-biles-will-push-on-to-2021probably-11585738819?mod=article_inline .

Reardon, C. L., Bindra, A., Blauwet, C., Budgett, R., Campriani, N., Currie, A., Gouttebarge, V., McDuff, D., Mountjoy, M., Purcell, R., Putukian, M., Rice, S. and Hainline, B. (2021) ‘Mental health management of elite athletes during COVID-19: a narrative review and recommendations’, British Journal of Sports Medicine, 55(11), pp. 608-615.

Rowbottom, M. (2021) A bridge too far – the athletes who retired instead of waiting for Tokyo. Available at: https://www.insidethegames.biz/articles/1109206/big-read-athlete-retirements-tokyo-2020  (Accessed: 12 July 2021).

Sarto, F., Impellizzeri, F. M., Spörri, J., Porcelli, S., Olmo, J., Requena, B., Suarez-Arrones, L., Arundale, A., Bilsborough, J., Buchheit, M., Clubb, J., Coutts, A., Nabhan, D., Torres-Ronda, L., Mendez-Villanueva, A., Mujika, I., Maffiuletti, N. A. and Franchi, M. V. (2020) ‘Impact of Potential Physiological Changes due to COVID-19 Home Confinement on Athlete Health Protection in Elite Sports: a Call for Awareness in Sports Programming’, Sports Medicine, 50(8), pp. 1417-1419.

Simons, C., Martin, L. A., Balcombe, L., Dunn, P. K. and Clark, R. A. (2021) ‘Mental health impact on at-risk high-level athletes during COVID-19 lockdown: A pre-, during and post-lockdown longitudinal cohort study of adjustment disorder’, Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, 24(4), pp. 329-331.

Taku, K. and Arai, H. (2020) ‘Impact of COVID-19 on Athletes and Coaches, and Their Values in Japan: Repercussions of Postponing the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games’, Journal of Loss and Trauma, 25(8), pp. 623-630.

Telegraph Sport (2021) Tokyo Olympics 2021 Opening Ceremony: when is it, what time does it start and how can I watch? Available at: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/olympics/0/tokyo-olympics-2021-opening-ceremony-time-does-start-can-watch/  (Accessed: 12 July 2021).

 

This article was originally posted on OpenLearn.

What can we expect at the 2021 Tokyo Olympic Games?

By Simon Rea

Simon Rea previews the 2021 Olympic Games in Tokyo, looking at the new sports featuring, plus who are Team GB’s best chances of winning medals.

The Games are going ahead despite a host of problems

After the successes of Rio de Janeiro in 2016 and London in 2012, the 2021 Olympic Games land in Tokyo amid difficult circumstances. Only domestic spectators will be allowed in the stadiums due to concerns about athletes and spectators bringing in the COVID-19 virus. It looks like the New National Stadium in Tokyo will not allow any spectators as a national state of emergency has been called in Tokyo, due to rising numbers of coronavirus infections. Athletes will have to undergo regular testing and their movements will be restricted and monitored. Unfortunately, the Olympic flame that began its journey in Fukushima in March before being scheduled to travel across 47 prefectures and arrive in Tokyo on 23rd July has been beset by protests and eventually its journey through Tokyo was cancelled due to fears over COVID-19.

However, at least the greatest sporting spectacle in the world is going ahead and there is plenty to look forward to. The Olympics will run until 8th August and will involve a record number of 339 medal events across 33 sports. The organisers have taken inspiration from the London Games by putting together high-profile events for Super Saturday (31st July) and Golden Sunday (1st August) that includes the 100m finals.

Four new sports and new competitors to look forward to

Four new sports, surfing, climbing, karate, and skateboarding have been introduced to cater for a younger audience and to keep the Games relevant to all generations. Also, softball and baseball return to the Olympics after being dropped for the 2012 and 2016 Olympics.

Female surfer Shino Matsuda from JapanCopyrighted image IconSurfer Shino Matsuda of Japan

Surfing will take place at Tsurigasaki Beach roughly 100 km away from the Olympic Stadium in Tokyo and will involve a series of heats of 4-5 surfers who will each have 30 minute to showcase their skills and catch as many waves as they can. They will be judged on five criteria including difficulty, innovation, and variety. Currently, the top surfers come from USA, Australia, and Brazil. Americans John John Florence and Carissa Moore are the top Americans while Australian, Stephanie Gilmore, is a seven time World Champion.

Player at Bouldering tournament in Doha beach games in Doha, Qatar Player at bouldering tournament in Doha, QatarSport climbing will feature three disciplines, speed, bouldering (pictured right), and lead, in a combined competition. Speed is measured by athletes climbing a 15-metre-high wall at angle of 95 degrees as quickly as possible. The current men’s world record in 5.63 seconds and the women’s is 6.96. Bouldering involves a climber being faced with a 4.5 metre wall that they will ascend as many fixed routes as they can. They must try and ascend as many routes as they can in four minutes. Lead climbing is where a climber uses a rope to make a vertical climb. They have to keep attaching their rope to the climbing wall over a 15-metre climb. They have six minutes to get to the highest point and if they are tied with other climbers they are separated by time. The six medals will be competed for by 20 men and 20 women with Czech Republic climber Adam Ondra a favourite in the men’s event, while Slovenian climber Janja Garnbret is favourite in the women’s event. She has competition from GB climber Shaunna Coxsey who has a chance of a medal.

Japan is the home of karate, so it is fitting that it is making its debut here. There are six events in Tokyo – three weight categories for men (67kg, 75kg, 75+kg) and three for women (55kg, 61kg, 61+kg). Japan have high hopes in these events with Kiyou Shimizu in the women’s event and Kiyuna Ryo in the men’s event.

The introduction of skateboarding seems like a radical move for the Olympics and will hopefully engage a different audience to the traditional Olympic sports. There are two disciplines of skateboarding – Street and Park. Street skateboarding is held on a straight street-style course and includes stairs, handrails, benches, and walls. Athletes are judged based on originality and execution, and the number of tricks they perform. American skater Nyjah Huston has won more prize money than any other skater in history and has over 4.5 million Instagram followers.

Park skateboarding takes place on a hollowed-out course that features curves and deep bowls. They often include halfpipes and quarter pipes. This is the event where we will see Team GB’s youngest ever Olympian Sky Brown who will be just 13 years old when she competes. She is a very modern athlete who has a huge Instagram following and learns her moves on YouTube rather than having a coach.

What about Team GB’s chances of medals?

While Sky Brown does have the chance of a medal Team GB having some hot favourites, such as swimmer Adam Peaty in the 100m breaststroke event. Cycling golden couple, Laura and Jason Kenny, are both close to creating British Olympic history as Laura is one gold medal away from Katherine Grainger’s record of 5 gold medals and Jason is one medal short of Bradley Wiggins’ record of 7 medals. There is real interest in the athletics as well where World and European champion Dina Asher-Smith takes on American Gabby Thomas and veteran Jamaican athlete, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce over 100m and 200m. There are medal hopes in the middle distance events with Scottish athletes, Jemma Reekie (800m) and Laura Muir (1500m) in the women’s events and the trio of Elliott Giles, Oliver Dustin and Daniel Rowden in the men’s 800m.

GB's 4x100m medley relay team featuring Adam Peaty during medal ceremony at the Rio 2016 Olympic GamesCopyrighted image IconChris Walker-Hebborn, Adam Peaty, James Guy and Duncan Scott at the medal ceremony during the Rio 2016 Olympic Games

There are a couple of less known athletes to watch out for including Northern Irishman, Patrick Huston, in the men’s archery competition and Scottish shooter Seonaid McIntosh who is reigning world champion in the 50m prone event. Boxer Pat McCormack is favourite in the men’s welterweight category and along with his brother, Luke, is one of eight sets of siblings who will compete for Team GB.

While it may be hard for Team GB to better their medal haul of 67 medals, including 27 golds, from the 2016 Olympics there is excitement that the Games actually going ahead after the barren summer of 2020.

This article was originally published on OpenLearn.

The Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics are coming!

The delayed Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games will be starting soon. Look out for lots of related content from #TeamOUsport here on our blog, on Twitter and on our OpenLearn platform.

The Olympics start on 23rd July 2021:

The Paralympics start on 24th August 2021:

Student Story: Abi Harding

Like many Open University students, Royal Air Force Police Corporal Abi Harding, 32, is no stranger to studying with a newborn baby on her lap. After becoming pregnant during the first year of her Sport, Fitness and Coaching degree, determined Abi has continued to juggle her studies, work life and has just welcomed her second child.

To say life is busy for the mum of two is an understatement, yet Abi’s motivation comes from her family and wanting to secure a career as a PE teacher after she eventually leaves the Royal Air Force (RAF):

“I applied for university to become a PE teacher, but I decided to follow a career with the RAF, so my academic education stopped at college. I’ve been in the RAF for 11 years now and want to stay in the force for as long as I can, but I also want to make sure I’ve got a career for when the time comes for me to leave. Throughout my whole life I’ve always played sport – I still play football and rugby for the RAF.

“Because I enjoy sport so much, I decided to plan a future career as a PE teacher in primary or secondary. I looked into teaching and discovered that you need a degree and then a PGCE (Postgraduate Certificate in Education) to become a teacher, so I thought I’d start by studying a degree in something I enjoy and know a little bit about and that’s why I chose to study sports coaching.”

Managing family life and study

 

Abi’s course is part-funded by her employer and finding a university that would allow her to study around work and other commitments was essential. After a colleague recommended the OU, Abi realised part-time flexible learning would be a perfect fit for her needs. However, life was about to get even busier, as she explains:

“When I started the first module in October 2018, I found out I was pregnant with my first child. I had an assignment due three weeks after the birth – I was a bag of emotions! During most of that first module I was working full-time Monday to Friday. I did my OU study two evenings a week for two or three hours. When it came to writing assignments, I would put in extra work to make sure everything got done.

“I’m now on my third module and I have a one-year-old and a newborn, which is a challenge! Trying to juggle work, being a mum and doing a degree at the same time isn’t easy. You have to make yourself do it. Studying is not always something you want to do when you’ve had a day of it, but you’ve got to get it done. Some nights I just want to sleep!”

The juggling act of being a student-parent

Abi admits that there have been times when she has been close to giving up her studies, especially when her second child was just born. “I felt so tired of trying to juggle everything,” she says, though she is determined to finish what she started:

“My family has inspired me because it’s going to benefit all of us in the long run – and, if I’m honest, myself, because I’m a very determined person. And because I’m interested in the subject, I find all of the work enjoyable. Learning doesn’t seem like a chore if it’s something that you enjoy.”

If Abi needs advice or support, she knows she can also rely on her tutors and the rest of the OU student community:

“The tutor support you get with the OU is massive. I don’t even start my assignments without going to the tutorials because I find them really helpful. Really engaging. And because the students are all logged on together you can all ask questions in the chat bar about anything you don’t understand. It’s great because sometimes people will ask questions that maybe you didn’t think of. Or get answers to things you wanted to know but you didn’t know how to phrase the question. Personally, I massively benefit from the tutorials.

“I’m in a WhatsApp group for the module and it’s supportive because there’s a lot of people in there that are in a similar situation to me. For example, there are students who are studying while home-schooling kids. When they’re saying, ‘I can’t do this’, you know that you’re not the only one thinking that.” 

‘It will be worth it in the end’

Student Abi playing rugby for the RAF

Abi playing rugby for the RAF

Abi is now in her third year of her degree and though she doesn’t plan to leave her RAF role anytime soon, she knows studying with the OU now means she will be ready to step into a teaching career in the future:

“Doing the OU course means I know that I’m set up for life, so that when the time comes it’s just a case of doing the PGCE and getting qualified teacher status, and then I can be a PE teacher.

“If you’re thinking of doing an OU course I would say look into what you want to do first, to make sure it’s definitely the right route for you, and then just enjoy it, embrace it. Accept that there will be times when it’s not that easy, but it’ll be worth it in the end.”

 

This article, written by Carly Sumner Sinfield, was originally posted here: Juggling a degree, family and the Forces | OU News

A mile a day – Inspired by Ron

by Ben Langdown

As I returned home from my run last night, I was saddened to receive the news that Dr Ron Hill MBE had passed away at the age of 82. For those of you who may not be familiar with his name, Ron was a British athlete who, in 1970 at the age of 31, won the Boston Marathon in a, then, record time of 2:10:30 hours, breaking the previous time by 3 minutes. Later that year he went on to win Commonwealth gold in the marathon in 2:09:28 hours. This was not the first time Ron had recorded a sub 2 hour 10 minute marathon – in 1969 he was the second man ever to break that time barrier. Furthermore, Ron broke four world records in various events and ran in 115 marathons in 100 different countries. These were, and still are, impressive achievements, with Ron’s Commonwealth finishing time currently ranked as the 12th fastest time by any Briton.

However, for me, what is even more inspirational is the fact that, from 20 December 1964 to 30 January 2017, Ron Hill ran a minimum of a mile (averaging 7 miles) every single day for 19,032 consecutive days – that’s a streak of 52 years and 39 days! He did this whatever the weather, and despite suffering with illness and injury – such as flu, and even cancer surgery. A head on car crash in 1993 saw Ron being diagnosed with a broken sternum and lucky to be alive. Fortunately for his streak, he had already run that day, but the next day had to sneak out for a slow, flat mile when his wife popped out to do the weekly shopping! He only dared tell her a week later! In the same year, he had to adapt one of his trainers in order to accommodate a plaster cast on his foot following a bunion operation – this allowed his streak to continue as he managed a mile every day for the six weeks, post-op.

Why is this so inspirational to me? Because, I found out about Ron Hill during my attempt at a new year’s resolution in 2017. A friend had completed a year of running a minimum of a mile every day and I had decided to give it a go. They’d said the first 100 days were the hardest, and they weren’t wrong. Starting a challenge like this in the miserable, damp, cold, dark days of January and into February was not conducive to completing the challenge. However, I ran on through those and completed the year, and now 4 years later I am on day 1606 of my own running streak.

An image taken in the dark with a headtorch of a snow covered path with snow trails blowing across the picture.

Day 1500: A 7km headtorch run in the snow – Not how I imagined celebrating that milestone!

Like Ron, I have had my own challenges in completing a minimum of a mile on some days. Yes, the occasional illness has made it hard, sneaking out when my wife has popped out leaving me with strict orders to rest. Realising, on another occasion at 11pm while lying in bed, that I hadn’t run that day and going downstairs to complete hundreds of shuttle runs back and forth through the open kitchen and living room doors – just to clock up a mile on my watch!  And running at 10.30pm on a full belly of curry, naan bread and a couple of pints after forgetting to run before a meal out with colleagues…needless to say, there have been some slower miles mixed in along the way.

Day 1000: A celebratory 17km trail run in the Peak District

There have also been many highlights and benefits of committing to running every day. My fitness has improved, I’ve explored so much more countryside (including in Italy, Canada, USA and across the UK), seen stunning sunsets…

    

Sunsets on day 1408 and 1542

…desk breaks now have a renewed purpose, I’ve run new road routes, trail routes, up and down beaches, enjoyed being with friends, travelled to the Peak District to run up Mam Tor (title image) and along the Great Ridge on day 1000, drawn fancy GPS maps (e.g. shooting star!), clocked up personal bests and set new challenges along the way. This year I am attempting a minimum of 5km a day, spurred on by all the geeky data a new GPS watch has brought to me and the monthly competition with friends on total distance achieved! 566 miles (906 km) so far this year and I’m yet to get out and run today…

   

Day 958: Shooting Star: A 14km run with Dr Nathan Smith in the Leicestershire countryside

I’m still way off Ron Hill’s >52 year streak, and having started mine at the age of 37 I was 11 years older than he was on his first day. I know this means I may never get close to his streak and indeed I am not sure where or when mine may end, but despite all this, I am enjoying the challenge and am still greatly inspired by the British running legend, Dr Ron Hill MBE.

Run 1606 – for Ron

#runeveryday

Meet another of our Student Voice Champions

As our last article explained Student Voice Champions have been recruited to represent Sport and Fitness. You previously met Chris and Yasmin and this article introduces our third champion, Will.

My name is Will, I am a Level 2 Sport and Fitness student and I will be starting my final year this coming October. When I’m not studying, I currently work as a garden landscaper        and I am a coach at my local running club taking different ability groups. Another one of my passions is Triathlon, after starting a few years ago it has become a big part of my life, it helps me keep fit and I enjoy completing new challenges. My biggest achievement to date was completing a half-ironman in 5 hours 10 minutes. I am also a keen golfer and recently I achieved my first hole in one.

I decided that I wanted to be a student voice rep to promote mental health. Due to the current situation we find ourselves in, I think many OU students could benefit from more support whether this is just someone to talk to or more support from OU staff. I will do my very best to ensure that this support is in place for you. Please feel free to get in contact with me if there is anything you need.

Twitter: @GoreWill

Email: zx674027@ou.ac.uk

Meet two of our Student Voice Champions

Student Voice Champions have been recruited to represent Sport and Fitness. These new and exciting roles are designed for students to have a voice and share opinions and ideas  that represent those on the qualification which have the potential to inform the student experience. Your Student Voice Champions have been selected as they are passionate about having a voice as students and wellbeing as well as wider influences such as curriculum design and content, equality and diversity, promoting good mental health and other topics which are important for student success.

Meet two of your Student Voice Reps below:

My name is Chris Nash and I am a Level 1 student. Outside of my OU study I work as a data manager looking after timetabling, academic data and exam results analysis for a secondary school and sixth form in Dorset. I’m also a permanent wheelchair user and profoundly deaf, and until recently was a wheelchair racer participating in elite road races up to marathon distance (and had fun doing so!).

My experiences with my disabilities have also contributed to mental health struggles and alongside tirelessly fighting for a level playing field for those with disabilities I am also a passionate advocate for providing support for those struggling with their mental health. I love interacting with others both face to face and online and hope you will find me very approachable. I’m always ready to listen if there is something you would like to share, or indeed if you just need someone to talk to – and I love hearing and sharing success stories too!

Feel free to get in touch via Twitter @blackberrychris

My name is Yasmin, I’m one of the very lucky students who is a part of the Student voice team. Some facts about me are that I’m 25, mad about disability sport and love learning new things, when we aren’t in lockdown I’m often found hiding at the gym. I am very keen to represent students and make sure our voices are heard, if we all work together then big changes can happen. I’m coming back to studying after finishing my GCSE’s I went straight into working in design. My life got flipped over and I now live life with multiple disabilities and as much as I love design, I love sport and fitness more. I have my qualification in coaching wheelchair basketball and have been involved in wheelchair sport for the past 7 years. I like to think I’m approachable and anyone is welcome to reach out about absolutely anything using my email Yr474@ou.ac.uk.

For more information on Student Voice please visit the Student Voice page of the Sport and Fitness Website.

Taking the knee: Emancipation or defiance?

Authored by the team ‘Sapphire Sophomores’: Allen Hall, Skye Holdway and Alexander Grint [E119 20J 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.


During the American national anthem of a 2016 pre-season NFL game, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick chose to remain seated as a way of protest against police brutality, racial injustice and social inequality hoping to draw attention to the issue.

Kaepernick said at the time: “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of colour.” going on to say “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder” (BBC, 2020)

Four days later Nate Boyer, a former US Army Green Beret turned NFL player penned an open letter to Colin Kaepernick which was published in the Army Times, expressing his thoughts on Kaepernick’s stance, ending the letter saying he was listening with an open mind. Kaepernick saw the letter and reached out to Nate Boyer. They met three days later to discuss Kaepernick’s motivations behind his protest, his thoughts on social justice and police brutality. Boyer would talk about his time in the military and why Kaepernick remaining seated during national anthem away from his teammates could be seen as divisive and hurtful. Both men agreed to a compromise. That Kaepernick would take a knee. This would allow him to still protest, but by taking a knee, it would be a more respectful way of doing so. Boyer later said in an interview “We sorta came to a middle ground where he would take a knee alongside his team-mates. Soldiers take a knee in front of a fallen brother’s grave, you know, to show respect” (Snopes, 2017). From September 1st 2016 Kaepernick began taking a knee during the national anthem. This would prove to be far more iconic. The move soon gained support from fellow players, which solidified the stances significance as a peaceful objection to oppression.

His actions however, brought widespread reaction from fans and the media, polarising opinions, and triggering furious national debate. With many voicing their discontent, decrying his actions as disrespect for the American flag or for being unpatriotic (BBC, 2020) while others were quick to offer praise and support for Kaepernick for taking such a brave and principled stance.

Amongst those to condemn taking a knee as unpatriotic and disrespectful was President Trump, who, in 2017 nearly a year after Kaepernick first knelt, levelled criticism at players who joined the movement, suggesting players should be sacked (Time, 2017). Curiously though, British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab suggested that taking the knee originated in the TV series Game of Thrones, stating he would refuse to take a knee if requested, and went on to say that he viewed the action as “subjugation and subordination rather than liberation or emancipation” (TR, 2020). President Obama’s reaction at the time was to focus on the First Amendment right of free speech, choosing his words carefully he would say “I want Mr Kaepernick and others who are on a knee, I want them to listen to the pain that may cause somebody who, for example, had a spouse or a child who was killed in combat and why it hurts them to see somebody not standing. But I also want people to think about the pain he may be expressing about somebody who’s lost a loved one that they think was unfairly shot” (Time, 2017)

Taking a knee has since become a symbol of the Black Lives Matter movement, which campaigns for freedom, for liberation, and justice (Black Lives Matter, 2020). The movement gained impetus and prominence following the horrific killing of George Floyd by Minnesota police on 25th May 2020 leading to more and more people using the peaceful action to protest throughout many countries across the world.

Amongst the black community, taking a knee has a long history that can be traced back as early as 1780, where the image of a black man kneeling became the emblem of the British abolitionist movement during the 18th and 19th centuries, a movement to ban slavery in England, the Empire and around the world (Global News, 2017). The image symbolised freedom and liberation from slavery. Taking a knee was later adopted by Martin Luther King Jr, who in 1965 led a group of civil rights protestors to take the knee during a prayer outside Dallas County Alabama Courthouse. The prayer, following a march for the right to vote, was held after the group of around 250 were arrested for marching without a permit (Global News, 2017).

It is evident that taking a knee has nothing to do with disrespect or being unpatriotic, but the evidence seems to suggest that this is the message being dictated by those in power and by those that are ignorant to its meaning. There are undoubtedly two sides to taking the knee. On one hand, it could be a seen as a sign of emancipation as its very original form back in the 1700s was a symbol of freedom and liberation from slavery, but in more modern times it could be looked upon as a sign of defiance and insubordination as a protest against the racial injustice and police brutality.

 

References

BBC (2020) Black Lives Matter: Where does ‘taking a knee’ come from? [Online]. Available at https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/explainers-53098516 [Accessed 26 January 2021].

Black Lives Matter (2020) About [Online]. Available at https://blacklivesmatter.com/global-actions/ [Accessed 27 January 2021].

Global News (2017) Martin Luther King Jr. took a knee in 1965. Here’s a history of the powerful pose. [Online]. Available at http://globalnews.ca/news/3769534/martin-luther-king-jr-take-a-knee-history/ [Accessed 26 January 2021].

RT Question More (2020) ‘Take the knee’ in support of BLM? Only for Queen & wife, says UK Foreign Sec, who thinks gesture comes from Game of Thrones [Online]. Available at https://www.rt.com/uk/492208-take-knee-raab-queen-wife/  [Accessed 27 January 2021].

Snopes (2017) Did a U.S. Veteran Influence Kaepernick’s ‘Take a Knee’ Protest of Police Brutality? [Online]. Available at FACT CHECK: Did A U.S. Veteran Influence Kaepernick’s ‘Take a Knee’ Protest of Police Brutality? (snopes.com)  [Accessed 26 January 2021].

Time (2017) The Difference Between President Trump and President Obama’s Reactions to the NFL Kneeling Movement [Online]. Available at https://time.com/4955050/trump-obama-nfl-kaepernick-kneeling/ [Accessed 27 January 2021].

Swimming is Not Just for Fun! Leisure: The Forgotten Industry

Authored by the team ‘Splash’: Rois Wilkins, Roland Kemp, Alice Noble, Cameron Atreides and Craig Robbins [E119 20J 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.


Looking back on this rollercoaster of a year, with the coronavirus pandemic and the ever-impeding lockdowns, that have seen our beloved leisure facilities close from gym’s racking those dumbbells for the last time, to swimming pools draping the cover across and closing their doors for months. Some still to be sat in darkness, void of the sounds of splashing swimmers, I cannot help but think, has this industry been forgotten?

Photo by Marcelo Uva: https://unsplash.com/photos/n2v3lT

Since COVID-19 took a grip of the UK back in March Swim England reported that over 200 council run swimming pools have unfortunately had to remain closed, despite the UK Government announcing that pools can re-open. Many councils hinted this is due to financial difficulties that this unfortunate decision has been made (BBC, 2020).

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has given £100 million of funding to help support local authority leisure centres (BBC, 2020) and Chancellor Rishi Sunak has announced an up to £9000 top-up grant for hospitality, retail, and leisure depending on the property (Swim England, 2021a). While this is welcomed by many in the industry, UKactive CEO Huw Edwards says, “both public and private fitness and leisure operators will require additional, tailored financial and regulatory support”. With a new lockdown introduced in January, a key and pivotal month for the leisure industry, it could not have come at a worse time with industry operators losing on average £90 million a week in revenue (UKactive, 2021). Unlike the hospitality and retail industries which can make revenue online and with takeaway food, the leisure industry is stuck making zero revenue but still with the cost of upkeeping the facility. Marg Mayne, Chief Executive of Mytime Active says “the average cost of a leisure centre is £60,000 a month just to hibernate it” (Evening Standard, 2021).

 

Not Just an Exercise

The decisions to keep many pools closed have undoubtedly had massive effects not only the industry but for its communities physical and mental health. As you can see the industry is struggling to keep their doors open to its ever-engaging community, which is also suffering from the lack of taking part in physical activity but also with their mental health. Swimming is an outlet for much of the population with Swim England reporting in 2019 that 14 million adults (31.3% of the population) participated in swimming within the last 12 months, with 4.2 million adults swimming at least twice a month. The Government enforced national lockdowns and the closure of pools and leisure centres have drastically impacted the mental health of the community. Sports England Active Lives conducted a survey that revealed an additional 3.2 million were now classified as being inactive (4Global, 2020).

As shown in Figure 1, evidence from 4Global (2020) shows that during the first lockdown which began in March 2020, adults that experienced levels of psychological distress rose to 37.8% from 24.3% seen between 2017-2019. The levels in adults experiencing some form of depression almost doubled from 9.2% seen between July 2019 – March 2020 to 19.2% during the height of the lockdown in June 2020. You cannot help but see a correlation between the closure of leisure facilities and the affect this has had on the nation’s mental health.

Figure 1. Adult levels of psychological distress and depression between July 2019-March 2020 (4Global, 2020)

For many of the aging population swimming is the only form of exercise that they can do. With around 10 million of the UK’s population, mainly over 50s, suffering from some form of arthritis, swimming is known to greatly reduce the pain, stiffness and increase the overall mobility of the sufferer (Swim England, 2021b). It seems to be counter-productive in the fight against COVID-19 to keep pools closed when for many in the high-risk categories the only form of keeping healthy and fighting fit is the access to pools. Furthermore, keeping leisure facilities closed could be creating greater strain on our NHS which is already under immense pressure due to the pandemic. Jane Nickerson Swim England’s Chief Executive says that “they save the NHS and social care system more than £357 million a year and are the solution to many of the problems that society faces today” (Swim England, 2020a). Keeping our swimming pools and leisure facilities open would help our NHS focus on the fight against COVID-19 and keep our nation fit and psychologically healthy without the need to burden our NHS.

Photo by Nicolas J Leclercq: https://unsplash.com/photos/fbovpZ4GuLg

“Can I catch COVID-19 in a pool?”

The question remains, “how safe are swimming pools?”, like everything else with this virus there is a great deal of uncertainty. Since the leisure industry reopened its doors back in July the transmission rate of the virus within leisure centres has been respectively low, with only 0.99 cases per 100,000 visits recorded (Swim England, 2020b). There is also evidence that chemicals used in pools, such as chlorine, render the virus inactive within as little as 15 seconds, although this is only effective if the correct levels of chorine are used (PWTAG, 2020). As you can see, the evidence is few and far between but there are some convincing elements to say that pools are a safe place to exercise, along with the current government social distancing guidelines and the extensive cleanliness regime that is being introduced in a lot of leisure facilities. Heading down to your local swimming pool comes with no more of a risk than visiting your local shop.

Photo by Luca Dugaro: https://unsplash.com/photos/A4qmsfG6ywM

Looking at the overwhelming evidence, you can see that keeping swimming pools and leisure centres closed is not only a catastrophe for the financial future of our beloved leisure industry, but also for the health and wellbeing of its vast community that relies on many of the services provided. All we can do is hope that our government realises the potential that the leisure industry has for providing the much-needed relief the nation needs and throws this forgotten industry a life ring!

 

Reference List

4Global (2020), The real cost of lockdown. Available at: https://4global.com/4sight-week-7/, (Accessed: 25/01/2021)

BBC (2020), Keeping pools closed ‘a catastrophe for health and wellbeing’. Available at: https://ww/w.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-55148387, (Accessed: 25/01/2021)

Evening Standard (2021), Gyms and leisure centres warn Government of ‘catastrophic’ economic long Covid in third national lockdown. Available at: https://www.standard.co.uk/sport/gyms-leisure-centres-covid-govern/ment-warning-b850167.html, (Accessed: 25/01/2021)

PWTAG (2020), Swimming pool technical operation after Covid-19 shutdown (TN46). Available at: https://www.pwtag.org/swimming-pool-technical-operation-after-covid-19-shutdown/, (Accessed: 26/01/2021)

Swim England (2019), Key swimming statistics and findings. Available at: https://www.swimming.org/swimengland/key-swimming-statistics/, (Accessed: 25/01/2021)

Swim England (2020a), Closing pools risks an ‘avoidable physical and mental health emergency’. Available at: https://www.swimming.org/swimengland/more-tier-four-areas/, (Accessed: 25/01/2021)

Swim England (2020b), Swim England welcomes WHO reiterating Covid-19 does not transmit through water. Available at: https://www.swimming.org/swimengland/world-health-organisation/, (Accessed: 26/01/2021)

Swim England (2021a), Swim England welcomes new Government grants to support leisure sector. Available at: https://www.swimming.org/swimengland/government-grants-welcomed/, (Accessed: 25/01/2021)

Swim England (2021b), Swimming is one of the best exercises for arthritis. Available at: https://www.swimming.org/justswim/exercises-for-arthritis/, (Accessed: 25/01/2021)

UkActive (2021), Continued lockdown of fitness and leisure sector will cost £7.25m in missed health savings and £90m in revenue every week. Available at: https://www.ukactive.com/news/continued-lockdown-of-fitness-and-leisure-sector-will-cost-7-25m-in-missed-health-savings-and-90m-in-revenue-every-week/, (Accessed: 25/01/2021)

Will the gender pay gap ever be closed in professional sport?

Authored by the team ‘Is this the way to Amarillo’: Tracie Davies, Fiona Flaherty, Wendy Lampitt, Stephanie Mcilhiney, Lee Nailard, Hayley Slaytor, Guido Volpi, Luke Withey, Kathryn Halley, Paul Maher and Shannon McGovern [E119 20J 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.


Historically men have been paid more than women in most professions and when it comes to sport, who plays what used to follow gender-based traditions. Perhaps as little as a generation ago these traditions continued to be observed, especially in schools, but as more sports earn greater female representation and more professions bridge the pay gap between the sexes, does that that translate to greater equality of pay for women in professional sport?

Photo by Alex Smith https://unsplash.com/photos/J4yQp1lIJsQ

Female athletes at the Summer Olympic Games now represent almost 50 per cent of all participants (Olympic Games, 2021) but how equally do the more high-profile sports both within and outside the Olympics pay them compared to their male counterparts? Every year, Forbes release a list of the highest paid athletes in the world and in 2020’s list there are only two women in the top 60, Naomi Osaka and Serena Williams (Forbes, 2021). In 2019, only Serena Williams made the list of 100 (Forbes, 2019).

Different sports are governed by different rules surrounding how much their athletes are paid. Since modern tennis was adapted from earlier forms in the mid 19th century (Bustle, 2016), women have participated. The women’s first tennis tournament occurred in 1884, when the first Ladies’ Championships took place at the All England Club at Wimbledon (Wimbledon, 2020), seven years after the first men’s tournament. After 1968, when tennis’ “Open Era” began (Tennis Majors, 2020), Billie Jean King began to campaign for equal prize money for women (Billie Jean King, 2021). In 1973 the US Open was the first Grand Slam tournament to offer it (US Open, 2018) but it wasn’t until 2007 that Wimbledon became the final Grand Slam to join in, one year after the French Open (BBC Sport, 2016).

While tennis has made great strides to achieve equal pay, other sports that have a long history for both genders, basketball and golf, seem to be far behind. Basketball is one of the US’ most popular sports and the disparity between pay for men and women is stark. In 2017 the National Basketball Association’s highest paid player, Stephen Curry, earnt more than £26 million, not including endorsements. Women’s pay for the same year in the Women’s NBA was capped so the highest earning woman, Candace Power, earnt £87,209 (Boost Power, 2021). In golf in 2016 men could win 83 per cent more in winnings than their female equivalent on the golf tour although “They play the same game, to the same level.” (Golf Support, 2016) but although equality seems far off more prize money is being added and the number of tournaments is increasing (Desert Sun, 2021).

Sports such as football (soccer) and rugby which have been considered traditionally male have enjoyed increased participation from women and girls in recent years on national and global levels owing to active campaigns by their governing bodies (Guardian, 2020) (England Rugby, 2019). But while participation may be up, male footballers remain some of the highest paid sportspeople in the world and women receive much more modest salaries, such as in the 2017-18 season where Lionel Messi earnt 130 times as much as the highest paid female footballer, Alex Morgan (Boost Power, 2021). Female rugby players in England have only started to be paid at all since 2019 (Telegraph, 2019) and in the Six Nations competition, while the winning men’s team receive prize money of £5 million, the winning women’s team receives nothing (Luxurious Magazine, 2020).

When drawn on why certain sports are nowhere near awarding equality of pay the same reason is often given: revenue. A great deal of sports’ revenue comes from broadcast rights and to this day there is still vastly more men’s sport broadcasted than women’s sport, leading to far less money in the pot to pay female athletes. A 2017 study by Women in Sport showed that in the UK media coverage of women’s sport accounted for an average of ten per cent of all sport covered, reducing to four per cent at a time when international events had ended (Women in Sport, 2018). The women’s World Cup in 2019 was viewed by 1.12 billion people worldwide, 31 per cent of the number that watched the men’s World Cup in 2018 (Guardian, 2019) but the prize money offered was only 7.5 per cent of that offered to the men’s teams. If viewing figures are a measure of success, even this seems stacked against women’s sport. There are calls for more women’s sport to be available to view (Broadcast Now, 2019) and Sky Sports has run a campaign, “Rise With Us” since March 2020, highlighting women’s sports and plans to expand its existing coverage and digital output (IBC, 2020).  If sports’ governance invested more time and money into showcasing women’s teams and players as they have traditionally done with men’s there would be greater awareness, greater spectatorship, higher viewing figures and more revenue.

Photo by Susan Flynn https://unsplash.com/photos/wqaEwf35Bl8

Until this happens there is, however, some hope. Relatively new sports such as triathlon and the more recently founded CrossFit offer equal prize money for male and female competitors and have done since the outset (BoxRox, 2020; World Triathlon, 2016). Both describe this stance as an inherent part of their sport: “Equal opportunities for men and women are part of triathlon’s DNA, as well as a part of ITU’s constitution.” (World Triathlon, 2016); Nicole Carroll, Co-director of Certification and Training says “It was not part of our culture to even consider that women are not equal or that their performance should not be equally valued.” (CrossFit, 2018).

As more new sports emerge and grow, they will bring about a new idea of equality; it is easy to imagine the outrage that would occur if a sport paid less prize money to men than women for doing essentially the same thing, and nowadays this would also be the reaction to women being paid less than men in a new sport. But for now, it seems that the gender pay gap is a long way from being closed.

 

References

BBC Sport (2016) ‘Equal pay is as much a myth as it is a minefield’. Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/tennis/35863208 (Accessed 20 January 2021).

Billie Jean King (2021) Demanding Change. Available at: https://www.billiejeanking.com/equality/ (Accessed: 26 January 2021).

Boost Power (2021) How long do sports players work for their money? Available at: https://www.boostpower.co.uk/blog/sports-salaries (Accessed: 18 January 2021).

BoxRox (2020) How Much Money Did The 2020 CrossFit Games Top 10 Athletes Win? Available at: https://www.boxrox.com/how-much-money-did-the-2020-crossfit-games-top-10-athletes-win (Accessed: 20 January 2021).

Broadcast Now (2019) Not enough women’s sport on TV, say viewers. Available at: https://www.broadcastnow.co.uk/not-enough-womens-sport-on-tv-say-viewers/5137759.article (Accessed: 20 January 2021).

Bustle (2016) What Women’s Tennis Has Looked Like Through History. Available at: https://www.bustle.com/articles/142759-what-womens-tennis-has-looked-like-through-history-because-women-have-been-part-of-this-sport (Accessed: 26 January 2021).

CrossFit (2018) Why Men and Women are Always Equal in CrossFit. Available at: https://journal.crossfit.com/article/equality-warkentin (Accessed: 26 January 2021).

Desert Sun (2021) No equal pay yet, but women’s golf is adding more prize money. Available at: https://eu.desertsun.com/story/sports/golf/2019/07/09/lpga-majors-continue-increase-their-purses-equal-pay-gets-closer/1676241001/ Accessed: 26 January 2021).

England Rugby (2019) World Rugby Launch Women’s Campaign. Available at: https://www.englandrugby.com/news/article/world-rugby-launch-womens-campaign (Accessed: 26 January 2021)

Forbes (2019) Why Is Serena Williams The Only Woman On The List Of The 100 Highest-Paid Athletes? Available at: https://www.forbes.com/sites/kimelsesser/2019/06/14/why-is-serena-williams-the-only-woman-on-the-list-of-100-highest-paid-athletes/?sh=32725625fa98 (Accessed: 26 January 2021)

Forbes (2021) Highest Paid Athletes in the World 2020. Available at: https://www.forbes.com/athletes/#73e586aa55ae (Accessed: 18 January 2021)

Golf Support (2016) How Big is Golf’s Gender Pay Gap? Available at: https://golfsupport.com/blog/golfs-gender-pay-gap (Accessed: 21 January 2021).

Guardian (2019) We can gauge popularity of women’s football. Time to up the prize money. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/football/2019/oct/22/womens-football-prize-money-world-cup (Accessed: 26 January 2021).

Guardian (2020) FA hits target with 3.4m women and girls playing football in England. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/football/2020/may/14/fa-hits-target-to-double-womens-football-participation-in-three-years-england-gameplan-for-growth#:~:text=The%20number%20of%20women%20and,Gameplan%20for%20Growth%20in%202017. (Accessed: 26 January 2021)

IBC (2020) Sky Sports Aims to Diversify Audiences for Women’s Sport. Available at: https://www.ibc.org/trends/sky-sports-aims-to-diversify-new-audiences-for-womens-sport/5552.article (Accessed: 23 January 2021).

Luxurious Magazine (2020) Six Nations Gender Pay Gap is One of the Worst in Sport. Available at: https://www.luxuriousmagazine.com/six-nations-gender-pay-gap/ (Accessed: 21 January 2021).

Olympic Games (2021) Women at the Olympic Games. Available at: https://www.olympic.org/women-in-sport/background/statistics (Accessed: 26 January).

Tennis Majors (2020) 1968, Open era: The moment tennis opted to become a modern sport. Available at: https://www.tennismajors.com/our-features/long-form-our-features/1968-open-era-the-moment-tennis-opted-to-become-a-modern-sport-228622.html (Accessed 26 January, 2021).

US Open (2018) 50 Moments that Mattered: US Open offers equal prize money. Available at: https://www.usopen.org/en_US/news/articles/2018-08-21/50_moments_that_mattered_us_open_is_first_grand_slam_tournament_to_offer_equal_prize_money.html (Accessed 26 January 2021).

Wimbledon (2020) About Wimbledon: History – 1880s. Available at: https://www.wimbledon.com/en_GB/aboutwimbledon/history_1880s.html (Accessed: 26 January 2021).

Women in Sport (2018) Where are all the women? Available at: https://www.womeninsport.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/Where-are-all-the-Women-1.pdf (Accessed: 26 January 2021).

World Triathlon (2016) Female participation in ITU races increases. Available at: https://www.triathlon.org/news/article/female_participation_in_itu_races_increases (Accessed: 20 January 2021).