"It brings me purpose but it takes an emotional toll": Olympic and paralympic athletes' experiences of advocating for a more equitable sport system


While high rates of wellbeing concerns amongst elite athletes affirm that a duty of care toward Canadian athletes is imperative, little is understood about the psychological wellbeing of diverse elite athletes, including how experiences of marginalization shape their wellbeing throughout their athletic careers. We examined how elite athletes diverse in gender identity, sexual orientation, and (dis)ability, coped with stressors throughout their athletic careers and the impact on their psychological wellbeing over time. Guided by a critical interpretivist approach, we conducted life history interviews with 14 athletes (8 Paralympic; 6 Olympic) at two time points (28 interviews total) and analyzed them using narrative thematic analysis. Two narratives were constructed from athletes' stories, including agency through self and community advocacy, and constraining emotional work. Women, disabled, and/or queer athletes were forced to advocate for themselves if they wished to continue elite training and competition due to limits in opportunities, resources, and discrimination. While frustrating, their advocacy brought them a sense of purpose as they felt they were also advocating for their communities and contributing to the building of a more equitable sport system. Athletes, however, described the emotional labour required to sustain advocacy work. While their purposeful advocacy sometimes allowed them to thrive, they were often silenced and ignored within their sport communities, which had detrimental impacts on their sport performance and wellbeing. The findings contribute to stress and coping and psychological wellbeing in sport literatures by identifying how engagement in advocacy may shape and constrain athlete psychological wellbeing over time.

Acknowledgments: This abstract draws on research supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.