In a week in which the sporting world expected to do nothing more than celebrate its top athletes, they have instead been forced to examine a far darker issue: sporting mental health.
The conversations began with the announcement that Simone Biles, the most decorated American gymnast and most dominant gymnast of all time, would be putting her “mental health first” and pulling out from the women’s team final at 2020.
And now, this prioritisation of mental health over sporting achievement has travelled across the pond, with a statement from the ECB saying that all-rounder Ben Stokes will be taking an indefinite break from all cricket with immediate effect to prioritise his mental wellbeing.
Morgan calls for changes to impossible calendar and to put double headers at Wembley
Like Biles, Stokes has been publicly supported in his decision by his governing body.
"Ben has shown tremendous courage to open up about his feelings and wellbeing,” said Ashley Giles, the managing director of England men's cricket.
“Ben will be given as long as he needs, and we look forward to seeing him playing cricket for England in the future.”
In spite of both athletes facing some backlash, most fans have rallied in their support - and asking what more can be done to keep sporting stars mentally fit.
Although studies show that physical activity has a positive impact on mood, it has been suggested that 35% of elite athletes suffer from some form of mental health problem, with the reasoning behind this high percentage ranging from the huge pressure faced by athletes to the isolation felt due to extreme training.
- Social media reaction to Simone Biles' withdrawal from the Olympics
- Biles pulls out of all-around individual competition
- Rutherford backs Biles over withdrawal
Biles and Stokes are now part of an ever-growing list of athletes to admit to being part of this percentage, including the most successful and decorated Olympian of all time, Michael Phelps.
Phelps said: “I almost felt like it would be better for everybody if I wasn’t there. But the more I thought about it, I wanted to find a different route.
“I wanted to see if I could find some help. I wanted to see if I could get better.
“I still go through times that are very challenging.
“I do break down and maybe have a bad day, where I’m not in a good mental state.
I understand that. It’s who I am. I guess that will always be something that’s a part of me.
Athletes' vocalisation of their struggles has brought to the forefront the importance of mental health, with many governing bodies realising the strong links between physical and mental health leading to the subject being more regularly discussed and psychological support becoming a regular part of training.
And this may also have a positive effect on sports fans - with the suggestion that the more athletes talk, the more fans might feel inspired to seek help on their own.
However, there is still work to be done - with the combined impact of the pandemic, repeated lockdowns and the institution of bio-secure bubbles yet to be fully understood.
The pandemic saw athletes adapt to a new way of training, with many forced to find new techniques to keep themselves at peak fitness, with no knowledge as to when they would be expected to perform, all the while isolated from their support network due to national lockdowns.
And EURO 2020, the Olympics and England’s cricket series have all seen sports stars separated from their families and friends and forced to adapt to a ‘new normal’ in which they are often secluded to their bedrooms.
In his statement, Giles said: "Our primary focus has always been and will continue to be the mental health and welfare of all of our people.
“The demands on our athletes to prepare and play elite sport are relentless in a typical environment, but the ongoing pandemic has acutely compounded this.
“Spending significant amounts of time away from family, with minimal freedoms, is extremely challenging.
“The cumulative effect of operating almost continuously in these environments over the last 16 months has had a major impact on everyone's wellbeing.”
Biles and Stokes are part of a small group to publicly and freely admit the reason for withdrawing from competition is due to their mental health and wellbeing.
With such big names happy to speak out, it paves the way for their peers to do the same should they need to.
And it also brings attention to the fact that governing bodies must support their athletes to realise their mental health must take priority over their results - or face the consequences of their health being put at risk.
Lincolnshire first to clinch victory in National Counties Championship
Worcestershire ace Gibbon spearheading Cheshire's National Counties Championship tilt
Share this article