TEAM GB stars who are struggling with mental health issues before the Tokyo Olympics have been told: Please speak out like Naomi Osaka.
The Tokyo 2020 president Seiko Hashimoto has told the BBC that she is 100% certain the Games will happen on July 23 despite the Covid pandemic.
Yet the build-up to the Olympics – postponed by 12 months due to the coronavirus crisis – has been the most chaotic in recent memory.
Japan is dealing with a fourth wave of coronavirus cases with 10 areas of the country under a state of emergency.
It is a clearly stressful time, especially given all the legitimate concerns about safety and the health restrictions in place.
Tennis star Osaka, 23, spoke out this week about her own mental health battles, quitting the French Open to take time away from the sport to try to deal with her anxiety and bouts of depression.
Ex-rower Katherine Grainger, winner of Olympic doubles sculls gold at London 2012 and now head of UK Sport, told SunSport: “Naomi’s story is the highest-profile conversation we have had about the mental pressure on athletes.
“Games-time the mental pressure becomes even sharper and focused. More pressure, more expectation.
“Athletes are in a massive public spotlight and exposed on the widest level. We have come from a place where sports have shut down and been isolated in bubbles.
“Suddenly they are stepping out into the spotlight of the Tokyo Games. But thankfully there is more help than there has ever been.
“We want athletes to have positive experiences whatever the results are.”
Last year an independent and confidential hotline was available for anxious Olympians who were left in limbo during lockdown when the Games were initially postponed.
The British Athletes Commission and English Institute of Sport provide access to counsellors and psychologists for world-class individuals and teams.
According to the Times, the British Olympic Association will have a "performance lodge" in Tokyo where athletes can train, relax and eat at their leisure as well as gain access to ten mental health experts.
Grainger, 45, said: “Even for those of us who have been there before, gone through the highs and lows, Tokyo is a unique experience.
I’d say to anyone that if you are feeling low – that is okay. Don’t worry if you are having doubts or concerns. It’s normal at this time.
“This uncertainty, this speculation, this doubt, this nervousness around health and wellbeing issues – that is all very normal.
“I’d say to anyone that if you are feeling low – that is okay. Don’t worry if you are having doubts or concerns. It’s normal at this time.
“A lot of people are experiencing the same. It doesn’t mean you cannot perform.
“You have to acknowledge that is how you feeling. So ask for help, ask for support. It is not a negative thing.
“Where we are moving to as a society, talking and being honest about things is a show of strength. Asking for help is a good thing to do.”
Professional rowers Helen Glover and Vicky Thornley are among those high-profile stars who were discovered by coaches for top-level sport through Talent ID schemes.
The new ‘From Home 2 The Games’ initiative has been launched to engage 11-23 years-old to take part in Olympic sport.
Scot Grainger said: “Since 2007, there has been Talent ID – we are trying to find the next great name for the Olympic and Paralympic family.
“But now we are going to communities and parts of the country where young people never thought they could make it. And in the past we have maybe missed potential talent.
“The inspiration of Tokyo might be the spark for them to try out different sports.”
For more information visit www.FromHome2TheGames.com.
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