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Governing bodies should ‘increase efforts’ on athlete welfare – Anna Watkins

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Governing bodies should ‘increase efforts’ on athlete welfare – Anna Watkins

Efforts to make athlete welfare paramount must be increased or sustained heading into an Olympic and Paralympic year, 2012 rowing champion Anna Watkins has said.

Watkins, 40, is now the chief executive of the British Elite Athletes Association (BEAA), an independent representative body for those athletes funded to train at Olympic or Paralympic level by UK Sport.

With the Games in Paris now just over six and seven months away respectively, athletes will be entering the final phase of their preparations and Watkins – who won double scull gold alongside Dame Katherine Grainger at London 2012 – is hopeful and confident that their welfare will be uppermost in the thinking of staff at their governing bodies.

“The step change seems to be working,” Watkins wrote in a column to mark 20 years since the BEAA’s launch in its former guise as the British Athletes Commission (BAC).

“Our annual surveys report that roughly 70 per cent of elite athletes feel the attitude towards their welfare has shifted positively each year. That is, of course, positive – but it’s not yet enough.

“Now I urge those within elite sport to sustain or increase their efforts as we approach the Paris 2024 Games.

“These will be the most eagerly anticipated for Britons since London 12 years ago, but more importantly they will be the first Games to reflect the impact of UK Sport’s pledge to ‘win well’, committing the country to ‘upholding the highest standards of ethics, integrity and athlete welfare’.

“Thankfully this is a far cry from the old idea that winning and well-being are not compatible – and I believe sustaining our national performance while insisting on the highest welfare standards would be a greater achievement than any that has gone before.”

Watkins said at the time she won gold in London she “knew far too many athletes across sports who had suffered because of, rather than been strengthened by, their experiences”.

She added: “Shortcomings persisted behind the scenes and soon major issues of abuse, bullying and mistreatment became apparent, followed by several high-profile reviews.”

The BEAA was heavily involved in supporting athletes impacted by allegations of abuse in gymnastics from 2020 onwards, culminating in the Whyte Review which concluded abuse within the sport in Britain was “systemic”.

“Issues absolutely remain, but if the tragic stories of recent years can impact the reality of athlete care as much as they have the conversation around it, I have every faith that British sport will continue to progress,” Watkins said.

“At its best – that is, when the headlines aren’t dominated by malpractice – elite sport can be a powerful articulation of excellence, commitment and integrity.

“All those involved in elite sport must play their part in ensuring the values we aspire to can shine, and that we learn how to keep athlete welfare paramount alongside competitive success. Two decades after the BEAA began fighting for that goal, let 2024 be the year we achieve it.”

Published: by Radio NewsHub

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