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Sport Wales Staff Keep Athletes on Track During the Pandemic

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Dr Rhodri Martin is a Consultant in Sport and Exercise Medicine at the Sport Wales Institute working as the lead doctor for Welsh Cycling and Welsh Athletics. He holds a Consultant post in the NHS at Cwm Taf University Health Board, as well as National team doctor to the Football Association of Wales.

Rhodri, alongside other healthcare heroes, is playing a vital role in supporting athletes during the pandemic.Here, he shares some insight into his work within sport and the UK wide collaborations that have helped shape COVID-19 athlete guidance document

COVID-19: Guidance to Keep Athletes on Track During the Pandemic 

We live in unprecedented times. COVID-19 has caused significant disruption to us all; impacting our daily routines, our work, our lifestyles and most importantly either directly or indirectly our health. 

As the COVID-19 pandemic became a reality, it soon became clear that it didn’t discriminate between the sick and the well.  We heard more and more anecdotal stories from around the globe of elite level, ‘super fit’ athletes being struck down by this disease. Thankfully, the majority of young, fit individuals who contract the disease only present with mild to moderate symptoms and don’t require hospital admission. However, it seems that even those with initially only mild symptoms can have very prolonged return-to-exercise timelines primarily because of the fatigue, and respiratory symptoms caused by the disease. 

It became clear to me and colleagues that sport was not immune to COVID-19, and the need for a specific guidance to assist elite level athletes to return to sport and/or exercise was really important. 

Rhodri is also the National team doctor to the Football Association of Wales.

Graduated Return to Sport Guidance for Healthcare Professionals

The Sport Wales Institute medical team worked in collaboration with the UK Home Institute medical teams to write a graduated return to sport document. The guidance has been written to guide a healthcare professional who is overseeing the return to play of an elite level athlete. The document was written based on any available evidence and also draws on expertise from several world leading experts. 

As scientists and healthcare workers like myself learn more and more about COVID-19 and its affect in athletes, it’s absolutely crucial that we keep our athletes and partners up to date with the latest guidance.  Therefore, we review the contents of the document on a fortnightly basis. 

It’s been fantastic to be part of such a collaboration and help deliver on this guidance document, each of us drawing on our own experiences and expertise. My personal experience working in the NHS during this pandemic has provided excellent insight into the severe form of the disease which has helped greatly in the content of the guidance document. 

Training during and after the COVID-19 Pandemic

The Sport Wales Institute medical team and physiology team also joined forces to create a document providing guidance on modification of training during the pandemic. This came about as a result of concerns around the impact of long and hard exercise sessions on an athlete’s immune system (which could potentially lead to a more severe form of the disease). This has been well received by sports who are helping to guide training in their athletes during this difficult time. 

Some other great collaborative work has been undertaken with the Welsh Institute of Performance Science (WIPS) to create guidance on return-to-training when the constraints of lockdown are eventually lifted. There is a significant increased risk of injury when an athlete rapidly increases their training load, and therefore this guidance document sets out a strategy to gradually increase training loads, which should assist athletes to return safely to pre-pandemic training levels. 

Sport Wales staff are supporting Welsh athletes remotely..

Ongoing Individual Athlete Medical Care

The Sport Wales Institute medical team continue to support athletes with one-to-one consultations, albeit that these are currently all conducted via video.   Not a tech guy myself, the video consultations and meetings have been a learning experience for all of us involved. However, it’s clear that the lessons learnt during these difficult times will help provide a far more athlete friendly service moving forward given the flexibility and user friendliness that this technology offers. This is particularly relevant for us here in Wales, a country in which athletes can be geographically disperse.

Remaining positive.

It’s been a real privilege to work alongside my colleagues across Sport Wales’ Institute and the UK Home Institute over the last few weeks.  I’m proud of the way we have responded quickly to the situation and acted with such integrity and innovation to develop a guidance document to help athletes during the pandemic. 

When sport is such a huge part of your life and even your livelihood, then a crisis like this which knocks you off your feet can really affect your mental and physical health.

From the doctors and psychologists to the nutritionists and strength and conditioning coaches – we all at the Sport Wales Institute and across the sector have a part to play in supporting our athletes to thrive, even in lockdown. 



The guidance document that Dr Martin writes about is designed for pathway coaches and athletes to understand how to modify training during lockdown and an approach to return-to-full training when Government guidelines allow elite athletes to do so. 

The guidance document has not been designed for the public to follow, and athletes who must always consult with their Coach and performance support team before adopting any information from this document.