Three years after gymnastics superstar Simone Biles put athletes’ mental health at the center of attention at the Tokyo Olympics, this year’s Paris Games will show how increased awareness has translated into better care and support.

Biles famously pulled out of most of her events in the mid-Games in Tokyo after struggling with mental health issues and “twisties” — an unsettling sensation in mid-air that has plagued some gymnasts. known as.

In the run-up to Paris 2024 on July 26, local organizers, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and international sports federations are keen to emphasize that lessons have been learned.

“Seventy percent of Olympians only get one Olympic experience. We want to try and make sure it’s the best experience they have,” Christy Burrows, head of safe sport at the IOC, told AFP. may have.”

For the first time at an Olympics, competitors in Paris will have access to a “mindfulness and relaxation zone” above the village’s main gym, called the “365 Athlete365 Mind Zone”.

Competitors will be offered virtual reality headsets for meditation, sleep pods, and even art activities, all designed to be comfortable in low-light environments.

“It’s going to be very zen, like a futuristic spa,” added Burrows.

Also in the village, players will have alcohol-free bars and social spaces to help them kick back, as well as guidance on how to maintain good mental hygiene after spending too much time on screens. .

Paris 2024 health coordinator Laurent Dallard told reporters, “In the same way that no athlete would think of stuffing themselves with burgers and sweets before a competition, looking at Tik Tok or Instagram would make them think about themselves.” Flooding social networks with videos is not good.” March

A mental health helpline in 70 languages ​​will also be available to all Olympic and Paralympic athletes.

Burrows said about 90 national sports teams will bring their own mental health welfare officers, using a new type of Games accreditation that has only been available since the Beijing Winter Olympics in 2022.

To prevent

Experts say research shows that elite sports people suffer from mental health disorders at a higher rate than the general population.

But Dollard emphasized that they are “more vulnerable to conditions such as anxiety disorders or depression, given their complex lives and intense stress.”

According to Marion Leboer, a psychologist and founder of Fonda Mental, a French research foundation, “one in three athletes experience symptoms of a mental health problem.”

Long a taboo subject, many are now opening up about their struggles thanks to revelations from stars like Biles, Japanese tennis player Naomi Osaka or Australian swimmer Ian Thorpe.

It has joined lesser-known sports.

Slovenian champion rock climber Janja Garnbret, who won a gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics, has denounced the problem of anorexia in the climbing community where being lightweight is an advantage.

“Do we want to raise the next generation of skeletons? Messy hair, dull expressions, trying to show everyone you’re fine but are you really?” she asked in an Instagram post last July.

Under pressure, the International Mountaineering Federation announced health checks for competitors to help identify at-risk climbers.

Recently in host country France, multi-gold medalist Marie-José Perec revealed more about her shock decision to skip the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

“Everybody could see things weren’t right, but nobody understood,” the sprinter told the Tribune newspaper.

Her departure caused little sympathy in Australia, where a national newspaper dubbed her “Mademoiselle la Chicken” on its front page.

Trolls beware

Paris 2024 will also see efforts to combat cyber-harassment and bullying taken to new AI-powered levels.

“I’m very happy with the cyber security stuff around social media and the athletes being trolled,” Alan Carey, a British psychologist who advises the IOC, told AFP. “It’s a big step because it’s a real pressure for the players.”

Following the example of FIFA, World Rugby and some Premier League football clubs, the IOC will team up with London-based data company to weed out an estimated billion in abusive posts during the Games.

Signify uses artificial intelligence to monitor messages sent to players on platforms such as Facebook, TikTok or X (formerly Twitter) in 35 languages, potentially identifying harassment or threats.

“Anything that violates the criminal code will be referred to law enforcement,” Burrows said.

The service will be offered to all 15,000 athletes at the Olympics and Paralympics, on an opt-in basis.

(Other than the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

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