New Delhi [India], December 27 (ANI): Year 2021 saw the second wave of COVID-19 which brought numerous changes to the dynamics in the field of sports, where many sportspersons shifted their focus from physical to mental health.
In this digitally intrusive world, where people feel constantly scrutinized for every action of theirs, certain sporting stars like Ben Stokes, Naomi Osaka, Simone Biles created a new benchmark by prioritising their mental health over respective sports.
The highlight of the year was definitely when the American gymnast Simone Biles who withdrew herself from much of the competition at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games in which she was favoured to come home with as many as five gold medals, citing her mental health concerns. The five-time medallist (four gold, one bronze) at Rio 2016 revealed that she didn't want to put her "health and well-being" in danger.
"Whenever you get in a high-stress situation, you kind of freak out. I have to focus on my mental health and not jeopardize my health and well-being," CNN had quoted Biles as saying.
"It just sucks when you're fighting with your own head," Biles broke down in tears while explaining her decision in a press conference.
Biles' decision to prioritise her mental health as she dealt with what gymnasts call 'the twisties' - when the mind and body fall out of sync - sparked a global conversation.
The twisties kept Biles out of three rotations of the women's team final where the U.S. captured silver and the all-around, vault, uneven bars and floor exercise individual finals. She returned to the competition on artistic gymnastics' last day, winning a bronze medal on the balance beam.
The American who is tied as the most decorated gymnast of all time said her team wanted her to go ahead and compete but she didn't want to put a medal at risk.
"I was like: I think the girls need to do the rest of the competition without me. They were like 'I promise you'll be fine, we watched you warm-up'. But I said 'no, I know I am going to be fine but I can't risk a medal for the team and I need to call it," Biles then said.
COVID-19 pandemic also introduced bio-bubble life in the tournaments, which restricted the players from the world outside. Cricketers such as Ben Stokes, Chris Gayle ended up leaving the tournaments after being mentally drained out by the bio-bubble life.
England all-rounder Ben Stokes opted out of team selection from the three-match Test series against India, Indian Premier League 2021, and the T20 World Cup to prioritise his mental health. Notably, the all-rounder was also nursing his finger injury.
The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) supported his decision and said that they will continue to help him during his period away from the game.
"The ECB fully supports Ben's decision, and we will continue to help him during this period away from the game," ECB had said in a statement. Managing Director of England Men's Cricket, Ashley Giles, said: "Ben has shown tremendous courage to open up about his feelings and wellbeing."
Stokes has now made his comeback in the ongoing Ashes series in Australia.
Meanwhile, West Indies batter Chris Gayle decided to pull out of the Indian Premier League (IPL) 2021 midway. The 42-year-old left the Punjab Kings (PBKS) squad midway owing to 'bubble fatigue' accumulated over months of playing franchise and international cricket.
"Over the last few months, I have been a part of the CWI bubble, CPL bubble followed by the IPL bubble, and I wish to mentally recharge and refresh myself," said Gayle in a statement.
"I want to refocus on helping the West Indies in the T20 World Cup and would like to take a break in Dubai. My thanks to the Punjab Kings for giving me the time off. My wishes and hopes are with the squad always. All the very best for the upcoming games," he added.
The discussions regarding mental health took a tricky turn when Japanese tennis star Naomi Osaka opted out of the French Open 2021 after playing just the opening match. Notably, Osaka withdrew from the Grand Slam, citing her mental health issues, after she was fined 15,000 dollars for skipping the press conference following her win in the first round of the Roland Garros.
In a statement released on Twitter, Osaka then said: "Hey everyone, this isn't a situation I ever imagined or intended when I posted a few days ago. I think now the best thing for the tournament, the other players and my well-being is that I withdraw so that everyone can get back to focusing on the tennis going on in Paris."
"I never wanted to be a distraction and I accept that my timing was not ideal and my message could have been clearer. More importantly, I would never trivialize mental health or use the term lightly," she added.
She then later also withdrew from the Wimbledon 2021 and then made the return in Tokyo Olympics where she lit up the Olympic flame in the opening ceremony.
The big change that the sporting world got to see this year was that many famous personalities came forward and praised these sportspersons for the step they took.
Bollywood actors such as Priyanka Chopra, Alia Bhatt, Varun Dhawan, and Arjun Kapoor while sports personalities like England batter Joe Root, former India head coach Ravi Shastri, swimming legend Michael Phelps, former England wicket-keeper batter Sarah Taylor were among the few names who backed the players for their decision.
As we progress into the new year we can expect normalisation of the mental health well being of the athletes in the sporting world. (ANI)