The British and Irish Lions’ tour of South Africa in 2021 is unique in that the battle is not only between the hosts and the touring team, over eight matches or three tests, but also against the reality of the life in a “bio-bubble”, which, although necessary, completely changes the fundamental characteristics of a tour, writes Mark Keohane.
The word “bio-bubble” has become common in sports over the past year or so, but I don’t think fans will ever get a feel for the sacrifice and mental stresses that come with living in a “bio-bubble”.
I certainly didn’t understand how restrictive the world was until I helped create an edit magazine on the dos and don’ts for players involved in the British & eight-game tour. Irish Lions in South Africa, which started on Saturday. evening at Emirates Airline Park in Johannesburg with a 56-14 victory.
The planning that has gone into securing a bio-bubble environment cannot be overstated. Attention to detail, unboxing all possible Covid-related scenarios and, in the case of the tour, every bus ride from the team’s hotel to the training venue and to the match venue, and the character daily operational life in the bio-bubble, is so foreign to the layman.
South Africans can understand being in Covid Level 5 lockdown and the emotional strain of that lack of movement, a chained sense of everything and the robotic nature of its existence.
Now take that level 5 lockdown and double it, triple it, or even quadruple it, because what the Lions and Springbok players will be going through over the next six weeks will test the mental resolve of each individual and member of the leadership like they have never been tested. a rugby field.
Kock cricketer Proteas Quinton has spoken in recent weeks about the stress of living in a sports bubble.
De Kock, who stepped down as Proteas captain and made time for the game, was in mind-blowing form for the Proteas on the tour of the West Indies, and he said he never resigned at because of the demands of leadership, but more because of a struggle to cope with life in this sports bio-bubble.
De Kock’s personality, like so many others in sports, is not geared towards restriction and robotic routine, in which there is no escape and interaction or social engagement.
It was 20 months between test matches for the Springboks, who faced Georgia in Pretoria last Friday night, but the victory for Siya Kolisi and her world champion Springboks was not in the result but in it. what players have already survived through bio. -bubble. Greet Siya and your Boks. Greet Conor Murray and your British and Irish Lions.
Any player who is a part of this series has made the most incredible sacrifice to be somehow a prisoner of the profession they have chosen and as supporters of the game there must be gratitude on the part of those in the game. ‘between us who are entitled to a test match and there must be be aware of what each player will be up against each day they wake up in the bio-bubble.
Paddy Upton, a professional cricketer coach but more renowned for his work with athletes as a mental conditioning coach, spoke about the education required to reduce mental strain on players and the long term effects this could have on the athletic careers of those who have spent long periods of the year in these biobubbles, which confine players and athletes to hotel rooms.
Some teams, where possible, have hosted families in the bio-bubble but this is not always practical, both logistically and from the point of view of the family with children in schools and partners who working.
“We haven’t done enough research to get input from different players on their unique challenges,” Upton told the India Times.
“We have all these doctors who say we can approve this drug and this drug until we do the trials, but have we put the research together? I don’t think we’ve seen the fallout yet.
“We may see more mental problems and illnesses from the prolonged bio-bubbles.”
Upton said extroverts and senior players would likely have a harder time within the bio-bubble as they were used to the space and freedom of movement, while senior players were used to a more touring environment. family than young players at the start of their professional careers.
But that hasn’t made it any easier for young players who are under pressure to be new to international sport and want to perform and make an immediate impact. This youngster can usually rely on a strong external support structure, and being confined to this regulated and structured island bio-bubble could be a very lonely experience.
Sports mental health physicians, cited in numerous articles around the world, constantly speak of players and athletes suffering from increased frustration, loss of motivation and discouragement.
The boredom is great because the room, which would normally be the player’s escape, is now everything for the player. It is the only place where the player is deemed to be safe, if not necessarily sane.
The team management had to be creative to maximize being on the training ground because once back at the hotel there is no room for creativity as the rules of the Covid bio-bubble are regulations, not demands.
Players who have experienced prolonged bio-bubbles talk about the difficulty adjusting to what is seemingly normal afterwards and also the mental anguish of not being sure whether matches or events will actually take place.
Mental health issues are ubiquitous in professional sport and being in a bio-bubble only amplifies the pressure on players, who, in the case of the Lions tour, face three Covid tests in seven days, including a test on match days.
Players have no physical access to the outside world while in the bio-bubble.
They cannot stay with family or leave the bio-bubble to visit family or friends, or show family or friends around the hotel.
They cannot leave the hotel or the training location to take a jog, walk or have a coffee. Their only movement outside the hotel is the training ground and the match venue.
Earlier in the week I wrote that ‘to crowd or no crowd’, rugby will be special and that while we may lament the lack of audiences in the stadium, we still have the luxury of performing artists on the pitch in the stadiums. Springboks and the British and Irish Lions.
For that alone we have to be grateful, especially when you consider what each player is going through mentally to make every game possible.
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