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Wellbeing in sports needs to be the next area to receive meaningful support and attention

There is no disputing the world of elite sport is competitive, challenging, beautiful and cruel; guilty of offering extreme highs and lows, when winning is the aim of the game.

No matter what the discipline, for those rare specimens who have the skill, dedication and passion to compete at the highest level of sport, they enter a space where the pressure to perform, to be the best and to win, is an occupational hazard. The hazards can come from external sources, or from within, but unlike an oncoming attacking rugby player, it is not as simple as ‘tackle low’, to get the better of these challenges.

The toll that these mental pressures can take on athletes is not a new topic, but it is certainly getting more oxygen lately, which can only be a positive thing. Major sporting moments tend to bring the discussion into the headlines when the stakes are raised even higher than normal. This year’s Rugby World Cup has thrown some chilling examples of player wellbeing getting pushed to the limit and in some cases inducing collapses.

It is not a binary conversation, with X leading to Y, but the cases coming to attention are directly attributed to the environment and associated pressures of top-level sports.

England and Wasps rugby player Kearnan Myall spoke out recently about the dread some players felt going into international training camp, due to the pressures and scrutiny they were subjected to. Just as the impacts are getting bigger on the pitch, it seems the load players are put under off the pitch and when preparing for games is increasing. More money is pouring into the game which brings commercial pressures for the powers that be, which will translate to the increased need to win on the pitch. The end point of this pressure cauldron is the player and the team who carry a huge responsibility.

The most iconic rugby side in the world, the All Blacks, has been thrown into this debate as well. Those players culled from Rugby World Cup contention have lamented the way in which it was communicated to them and the mental impact of disappointment of that scale. A sense of these individuals as commodities and disposable stood out in these accounts. While sport can be cruel and that is never hidden or denied, it is the manner in which this is managed, that seems to be an area in need of improving and addressing.

In a similar vein, careers getting cut short due to injury and the painful transition to ‘real life’ when all these players have known is the regimented routine of training and playing rugby. This comes with a whole swathe of struggles that need to be supported.

There is a sense that momentum is building behind this conversation, and rightly so. The more people like Myall who speak up is inspiring others to follow suit, and also action to be taken, or at least acknowledged. This is where brands and sponsors can add their support, championing the bravery of these individuals but also offering practical help. It is not a case of putting a branded polo shirt on a spokesperson and capitalising on a ‘PR-able’ moment, this is about looking at what their business can offer and putting that forward.

While a sport-specific case study, these challenges are not alien to other areas of life, and this is an important point. Brands from all industries and sectors can play a part; from mentorship programmes with business leaders, to awareness campaigns like we have seen from the likes of Cadburys and Guinness.

Laws of play, innovative safety equipment and cutting-edge technology are in pole position for promotion when it is employed to make sport safer. Even more so when a brand gets behind these areas. If mental wellbeing was to receive the same level of open attention, it does suggest that can only be positive.

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