VUB professor of sports psychology Paul Wylleman has been accredited as a welfare officer for the 2022 Winter Olympics by the International Olympic Committee (IOC). His expertise on the psychological impact of Covid and the mental counselling of athletes in quarantine during the 2020 Tokyo Games were key to gaining this accreditation. The role brings attention to and provides structured support for the mental well-being of top athletes.

The 2020 Tokyo Olympics put mental health in the spotlight, not only because of the impact of Covid and the measures that were imposed but also the actions of well-known Olympians such as Simone Biles. It will be no different at the winter games in Beijing, which begin today.

Prof Wylleman, sports psychologist and team psychologist for the Dutch Olympic team during the 2016 and 2020 summer games, says the IOC has continued this focus with the further accreditation of a welfare officer for the 2022 winter games. Several countries already have structural measures in place to support their athletes’ mental well-being.

Wylleman discussed the duties and qualifications required of welfare officers with Dr Richard Budgett, director of the IOC’s Medical and Scientific Committee. Wylleman, who is also accredited as welfare officer for TeamNL in Beijing, underlines the importance of this new accreditation, not only because it structurally addresses the welfare of athletes, coaches and staff, but also because it recognises the role and commitment of psychologists during the Games.

At the Vrije Universiteit Brussel, professor Paul Wylleman teaches sport psychology, mental training and coaching and high-performance management, and conducts research into the development of top-level sports careers, mental coaching of talented and top-level athletes and the quality of psychological coaching in high-level sport. With his research group, he conducts research for the IOC, WADA and the European Commission, among others.

He is also head of the Department of Top Sport and Study, which has been guiding top athletes in combining their university studies with high-level sport for almost 30 years.