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Road to SportAccord 2019: Mental health under spotlight at HealthAccord

HealthAccord promises to offer crucial insights into topics ranging from mental health to the use of supplements and technology to support athletes during SportAccord in Gold Coast, Australia.

Under the umbrella theme of ‘The Power of Sport – The Power to Change’, HealthAccord will take place on the morning of Tuesday 7 May at the Gold Coast Convention and Exhibition Centre, a year after its successful launch at SportAccord.

The new conference sub-stream in Bangkok last year built on previous discussions on the theme at the International Federation Forum, which is also organised by SportAccord.
With growing momentum in the movement, HealthAccord is now an established part of the SportAccord programme, running alongside the week’s other conference sub-streams, such as CityAccord, LawAccord, MediaAccord and the Summit, which will explore ‘The Future of Big Data and Analytics’, amongst other topics.

Athlete focus

HealthAccord co-chair Dr. Margo Mountjoy underlines how athletes will remain the central focus of the conference, which will provide an opportunity to reflect on how the sporting world’s policies, partnerships and resources can be used more effectively.

“HealthAccord is about athletes – how to keep them healthy and performing sport at their potential,” says Mountjoy, chair of the A SOIF Medical and Scientific Consultative Group, IOC Medical and Scientific Commission – Games Group FINA Bureau. “The purpose of this year’s HealthAccord is to raise awareness of key issues in athlete health that are currently not being addressed by sport.”

Mountjoy and HealthAccord co-chair Professor Fabio Pigozzi, president of the International Federation of Sports Medicine (FIMS) and Member of the IOC Medical and Scientific Commission – Medical and Scientific Group, will kick off the conference with opening remarks before a scene setter begins the focus on mental health.

Mountjoy then will participate in a panel session dedicated to exploring innovations in treatment and diagnosis, as well as links to activity levels, effects on performance and quality of life and, importantly, which tools international federations can use to make a difference.

She will be joined on the panel by the likes of Kathy Martin, senior director of Athlete Assistance at the Women’s Tennis Association, and Graziella Thake, chief executive and co-founder of The Optimisation Hub.

“We are delighted that athlete mental health is receiving more attention, as this has historically been an area of athlete care that has been neglected or even ignored,” Mountjoy says.

“When looking at the prevalence of mental health issues, we know that athletes are not immune to mental illness and that performance can be affected.

“We are confident that the sessions at HealthAccord will not only raise awareness, but will provide attendees with tools to help them address mental health issues in their sporting environment. Ask any successful Olympic coach – if the mental game is not sharp, the sport performance will suffer.”

With a number of high-profile cases in sport ensuring the issue of mental health has become increasingly prominent in recent years, there are encouraging signs that a greater understanding of the topic is leading to improving support methods – with platforms such as HealthAccord set to play an important role in the process in the future.

“HealthAccord will address the prevalence of mental health issues and we will hear some athlete testimonials, whilst screening and treatment options will be reviewed,” Mountjoy adds. “The IOC will be publishing in 2019 a Consensus Statement (review of the science) on mental health, and will develop athletes’ and coaches’ educational initiatives on mental health, as well as a mental health toolkit for sport clinicians.

“The next few years will thus see some significant advances in awareness, a decrease in stigma, and improvements in athlete screening for mental health issues, as well as for treatment.”

HealthAccord co-chair Dr Margo Mountjoy

Future impact

The impact of technology on athlete performance and health, which has the potential to transform sport, will also come under the HealthAccord spotlight.
Erwin (Ray) Bender, director of product development, global sports medicine at GE Healthcare Technology & Medical Innovation, will look at how technology is monitoring athlete injuries and rehabilitation.

A group of experts will also look at the pros and cons of wearable sensors for athletes, IFs and manufacturers. The panel will comprise International Ski Federation (FIS) marketing director Jürg Capol; Swiss Timing’s head of client services, Laszlo Szakadati; wearable technologies chief executive Christian Stammel; and Emma Mason, head of strategic and external affairs at the World Federation of the Sporting Goods Industry.

“The field of technology is exploding with innovations for athlete health and performance,” Mountjoy says. “We will discuss the products on the market for monitoring athlete health and performance, and ways that they can help feedback vital information to coaches and sport science teams, which can then drive changes in training to maximise performance and safety. As with all change, debate is inevitable around the validity, utility and ethics of the interaction of technology in sport.”

Areas of debate

Another area of controversy in athlete training and performance is the use of supplements. The topic is sure to spark a lively debate amongst a panel that will include Louise Burke, who has spearheaded research into sports nutrition at the Australian Institute of Sport for nearly three decades, and Professor Yannis Pitsiladis, member of the IOC Medical and Scientific Commission and professor of Sport and Exercise Science at the University of Brighton.

“Some nutritional supplements have been proven to be efficacious in improving sport performance,” Mountjoy says. “Many have not, and indeed, they may even have a deleterious effect on athlete performance and health. They may even cause anti-doping rule violations from inadvertent contamination of the supplement with WADA prohibited substances.

“This session at HealthAccord will discuss the benefits and risks of supplements, and the role that they may – or may not – play in sport performance. The future developments in the field of nutritional supplementation should focus on ensuring product safety and consistency, as well as areas where athletes require replacement of lost nutrients from training.”

As Mountjoy adds, such as “exciting mix of the current state-of-the-art sport science and medicine geared specifically for IFs, SportAccord delegates and other stakeholders” provides an unmissable opportunity to hear from esteemed speakers about topics that are integral to the future of IFs and their sports.