AIS Health Check launched to monitor the wellbeing of Australian athletes, coaches and officials


Australia’s high-performance sports have been told cultural wellbeing is no-longer negotiable.

While the concept of wellbeing is not new, it has moved from the wings to the centre of Australia’s sports funding model.

Starting this month, high-performance Olympic, Paralympic and Commonwealth Games sports that receive government funding through the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) will be required to submit a biennial report to be known as the AIS Wellbeing Health Check.

It has been piloted over the past 12 months, coinciding with a period of COVID-19 uncertainty, numerous cultural reviews, and the regular emergence of mostly historic allegations of abusive, and bullying behaviour across the sports spectrum.

The Health Check will gather information from athletes, coaches, and officials to give what is described as a 360-degree view of wellbeing in the high-performance environment.

All sports have been briefed and made aware that it is not an optional tool.

The AIS will support sports that may be required to rectify issues exposed by completing the Health Check, but for those who fail to implement change it is expected there will be a financial penalty.

The program’s launch dovetails with the latest information from the AIS’s confidential Mental Health Referral Network, which has access to more than 50 health practitioners providing services such as psychology, psychiatry, and neuro-psychology.

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May saw the highest number of referrals since the program’s inception in 2018 — 61.

This year, there have been more than 206 referrals from more than 30 sports, with two-thirds of those being current athletes.

Other referrals have been for high-performance support staff, coaches, and retired athletes.

Last year, overwhelmingly, the most common issue people sought help for was COVID-19-related stress.

This year revealed stresses around preparing for the delayed Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games as well as issues relating to selection and de-selection.

The AIS Director for People Development and Wellbeing, Matti Clements, told ABC program The Ticket the shift towards making wellbeing a significant part of the high-performance environment has been a big task.

“Absolutely it has changed but not just in sport, across a whole heap of industries, across school kids and uni students… across this country,” he said.

Having established the referral network, the AIS has now turned to the sports bodies themselves with the aim of uncovering potential issues before they become full-blown.

“It’s a survey, for want of a better word, from the athletes, the coaches, the high-performance staff, and the national sporting organisation itself providing input into this tool we manage,” Clements said.

“Then we bring in all the data … and are able to provide feedback to that sport across a couple of different areas inclusive of mental health, selection-non selection etc.

“We want to be able to proactively get data to have conversations with the sports around how they are going culturally.

 “We are aligning it with the funding … if a sport was to take no action against the implementation plan that comes from that data we’d be having a very strong conversation with that sport about the ongoing funding.”

Clements said growth in the numbers accessing mental health services is not due to a single issue.

The Health Check will measure six key themes:

  • Mental health
  • Cultural values
  • Injury prevention and management
  • Selection and non-selection
  • Conduct and behaviour
  • Equality and inclusion

“We are in the business of performance and you’re not going to win every race, you’re not going to win every competition and we are asking human beings to perform unique, world best, outcomes…that’s tough, and it’s not for everyone,” Clements said.

“It’s not all rosy, it’s not all high-fives 24-7 and everyone enjoying every moment, but I don’t think any industry is that either.”

Health Check key for Australian athletes moving forward

By uncovering underlying issues, AIS chief executive Peter Conde says the Health Check would enable the AIS to provide tailor-made services to fit a sport’s needs.

“I believe all sports have a genuine commitment to wellbeing, but this gives us the opportunity to measure, track and continually improve,” he said.

Federal Sports Minister Richard Colbeck said the health and wellbeing of Australia’s athletes was a priority.

“Our athletes face enormous physical pressures in their individual campaigns to reach their goals but now we know the impact this can also have on their mental health,” Senator Colbeck said.

The barrister appointed to chair Swimming Australia’s inquiry, Chris Ronalds SC, also pointed to the need for sports to be pro-active in conducting their own regular reviews.

“I would hope that any creative sport would be doing this every five years and would have been doing it for the last 20 years at least … unfortunately, I don’t think that’s been happening,” she said.

“Any culture that is positive and productive needs to have as part of its culture a regular review because otherwise what you set in place 10 years ago will not be effective now because things will change… you’ve got to keep it under constant review.”

The federal government’s funding of high-performance sport is reportedly worth around $100 million annually.

Approximately five per cent of that is used for programs such as the Mental Health Referral Network and the AIS Wellbeing Health Check.

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