Paris 2024 will have even more care and support for athletes. GETTY IMAGES

Three years after Simone Biles highlighted athletes' mental health at the Tokyo Olympics, the Paris Games will show how this awareness has improved care and support.

Biles withdrew from most Tokyo events due to mental health struggles and the "twisties" – a disorienting mid-air sensation affecting gymnasts. As Paris 2024 approaches, local organisers, the IOC, and sports federations stress that they have learned valuable lessons.

For the first time at an Olympics, athletes will have access to a “mindfulness and relaxation area” known as the “Athlete365 Mind Zone,” located above the main gym in the Athletes’ Village. This space will feature virtual reality headsets for meditation, sleep pods, and art activities, all within a calming, low-lit environment designed to be soothing and quiet. 

“It’ll be very zen, like a futuristic spa,” said Kirsty Burrows, head of safe sport at the IOC. Additionally, the Village will feature an alcohol-free bar and social areas where athletes can relax. They will also have access to guides on maintaining good mental hygiene, including tips on limiting screen time.

“In the same way that no athlete would think of stuffing themselves with burgers and sweets before a competition, it’s not good to stuff yourself with videos on social networks by binge-watching TikTok or Instagram,” said Paris 2024 health coordinator Laurent Dalard.

Extra care and support will be on offer to athletes at Paris 2024. GETTY IMAGES
Extra care and support will be on offer to athletes at Paris 2024. GETTY IMAGES

A mental health helpline, available in 70 languages, will be accessible to all Olympic and Paralympic athletes. Additionally, approximately 90 nations will have their own mental health welfare officers, utilising a new type of Games accreditation that has been available since the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, Burrows added.

Experts indicate that research shows elite athletes experience mental health disorders at similar rates to the general population. However, Dalard emphasised that athletes are "more vulnerable to situations such as anxiety disorders or depression, given their complicated lives and the intense pressure they face."

Psychiatrist Marion Leboyer suggests that "approximately one in three athletes experience symptoms of a mental health issue." Once considered taboo, numerous athletes are now sharing their struggles, inspired by the openness of stars like Biles, Japanese tennis player Naomi Osaka, and Australian swimmer Ian Thorpe.

Paris 2024 will also witness advancements in countering cyber-harassment and bullying, leveraging AI technology to new heights. “I’m really pleased about the cybersecurity stuff around social media and athletes being trolled,” said Alan Currie, a psychiatrist who advises the IOC. “That’s a huge step forward because that’s a real pressure point for athletes.”

Taking cues from global football governing body FIFA, World Rugby, and certain English Premier League football clubs, the IOC will collaborate with London-based data company to identify and eliminate abusive posts among the billions anticipated during the Games. Signify employs artificial intelligence to surveil messages directed towards athletes on platforms like Facebook, TikTok, or X in 35 languages, identifying potential harassment or threats.

“Anything that breaches the criminal code will be sent to law enforcement,” Burrows said. The service will be extended to all 15,000 athletes participating in the Olympics and Paralympics, offered on an opt-in basis.