Ever since the COVID pandemic took over what used to be our regular lifestyles, the idea of a new normal moving forward has been floating around. The new normal is basically just a set of certain restrictions and guidelines which define our very existence. Like everything else the Sports Industry too, had to fall back amidst the pandemic. While games have resumed, they are being played in a bio-bubble in order to prevent anyone from being infected or spreading an infection. A bio-bubble is an isolated environment that aims at reducing risks of getting infected with Covid-19.
While fans celebrate their favourite players returning back to the grounds, the players and the associate staff have expressed concerns about the toll that months of staying in isolation are taking on their mental health. Bio Bubbles demand stringent protocols to be followed. With long and continuous tours, away from family, constant checks, and most importantly living in a restricted environment affect the mental health of the players.
Former India mental conditioning coach Paddy Upton urged international sporting bodies, including the ICC, to understand more about bio-bubbles and get feedback from players to avoid fallouts due to extended stay.
“Because we haven’t done enough research to get feedback from different players — what were their unique challenges — we have all these medical people saying we can’t approve this drug and that drug until we do the trials, but have we gathered the research?”
“I don’t think we have seen the fallout yet. There is a potential we will see more fallouts with more mental problems and illness because of extended bio-bubble. I think some of them are preventable, but we are not doing all we can to prevent them, so we have to wait until that happens which is unfortunate for the athletes.”
Upton is not the only one concerned. Dr. Ranjit Menon, Australia’s consultant sports psychiatrist has also expressed his worries about the same.
“The Australian players have already faced issues of anxiety attacks,”
Living in these bubbles has led to an escalation of mental health-related issues. There are players who haven’t been able to meet their families or get adequate rest between tours. Natarajan couldn’t see his daughter due to his quarantine restriction while being part of the Indian team during the tour of Australia.
More so with such strict covid protocols in place traveling with family becomes a hard task. And residing away from them leaves these players in a constant state of worry. Living in a monotonous routine may also lead to problems such as overthinking about games, or issues with performance anxiety.
Upton is also concerned about activities like playing video games and using social media inside bio-bubble, which he said are designed to be addictive and more usage leads to an increase in chemical stress levels in their bodies which necessitates the need for stimulation. And when that is not met, things like depression await.
Experience of players regarding bio bubble
While talking to Sydney Morning Herald, Mitchell Starc said, “When you’re stuck in situations like that, month after month, going from bubble to bubble, and if those restrictions remain the same or quite similar, it can be quite tiresome on the mind and body as well. Certainly for myself to get that round of golf or walk around is a mental break from a day’s play or a game. That’s important for people’s well-being. Then you throw in the extra hurdle with guys with families and kids going hub to hub, and bubble to bubble, you throw in some restrictions in terms of quarantine, and then it makes it quite difficult.”
England Captain Eoin Morgan also has a similar stance that players should be allowed to pull out to take care of themselves. England has been playing a lot of cricket and there is more to come.
“We managed to fulfill all of our international fixtures for the summer. But to keep that level of bubble for 10 of the 12 months that we normally travel, I think is untenable. You can drill a player both mentally and physically. And it can cause extreme burnout, which nobody wants to see,”
Pakistan’s bowling coach and former captain Waqar Younis also admitted that players and staff find it difficult to spend numerous days in the restricted environment. He insisted that it was a learning curve for the Pakistan cricket team while living in bio-bubble during the tour of England. However, he is not sure whether this can work in long run. The former pace bowler also felt that any player opting out of matches or tours because of Covid-19 restrictions should not be disrespected. He cited the example of Pakistani batsman, Haris Sohail who had opted out of the tour to England for the same reason.
Extroverts are likely to struggle more in bio-bubbles: Upton
Paddy Upton also feels that extroverts and senior players are likely to feel additional pressure due to extended stay in bio-bubbles.
“If players are left alone, your mind goes all over the shore. If you have the discipline to find a good distraction or you get caught up in anxiety and emptiness, extroverts are struggling more in a bio-bubble because they need people, introverts are happy in their own space,” he said.
He said that younger players who were grateful for an opportunity to play in the IPL at the beginning of their career, bring enthusiasm and easily navigate through the bio-bubble. But senior players who are used to travelling, have families, introverts or extroverts, are really struggling. It is so much more difficult.
“Also, if a young player is new in a team who hasn’t integrated, it makes it more difficult to integrate and some of the youngsters have had very lonely experiences because each person is in survival mode, so there are a number of factors.“
Recently Josh Hazlewood, Mitchell Marsh, Josh Phillipe also opted out of the IPL 2021 due to Bio Bubble Fatigue. Tom Curran had opted out of BBL due to bio-bubble fatigue. In recently concluded series against England, Virat Kohli admitted that scheduling needs to amended as players are likely to get cooked by staying in bio-bubble for a long time.