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On your marks, get set...

Physios need to start preparing now if they want to be involved in London 2012. Louise Hunt sets out the training schedule

Now's the time to get ahead of the game. That's the advice from chief physio of the British Olympics Association Caryl Becker, who says: 'There will be so many opportunities for physiotherapists who want to be involved in the 2012 London Olympics.'

Because the UK is the host nation, the games are likely to offer physiotherapy a greater presence than in previous events, whether at the elite sports end or as volunteers - the two main routes through which physiotherapists will become involved.

Physios already working in high performance sports medicine can apply to become part of Team GB. Those who are not, but have a demonstrable interest and experience in sports medicine, can become volunteers at the Olympic village polyclinic, or help out in training camps around the country. In addition, the Olympics, and the Paralympics following it, are likely to act as a catalyst for physios working in public health. 

Making Team GB is almost as competitive as the event itself: there were, for example, only 24 physio places in the team at the Athens Olympics in 2004. However, as Britain is eligible to enter a team into every sport in 2012, this Team GB is likely to be twice that of the one at Beijing 2008. That implies more opportunities for support staff, including physios, to become accredited with the different teams, as well as work in the Team GB headquarters, which acts as a drop-in service for athletes.

In terms of what aspiring Team GB physios should be doing now to make the grade, Ms Becker says they need to become established in the elite sports environment by 2012 – if not sooner. 'It is not a closed shop, but your experience of working in the elite environment counts. You really have to be working with one of the national institutes of sport or sports governing bodies, and travelling with representative teams by that point.'

She adds: 'But there is no reason why people cannot achieve this within the time frame, as long as they have been qualified for long enough.' A strict stipulation is candidates must have been chartered physiotherapists for at least eight years. This rules out students or newly qualified physios, with the starting gate only opening for those who are now four years qualified and willing to follow the expected pathways.


The Association of Chartered Physiotherapists in Sports Medicine offers aptly named bronze, silver and gold continuing professional development pathways that build portfolios in first aid and the clinical experience of training and competitions necessary to reach elite sports level. Anyone serious about getting into Team GB will have to have the accredited gold standard, which is recognised by the BOA and UK Sport, and is the equivalent of extended scope practitioner level in the NHS.

Beyond this is the BOA elite sport register, which requires an additional application and portfolio. It is expected only physios on the register will be considered as candidates for Team GB HQ staff at future Olympic games. The English Institute of Sport has a similar three-tiered banding system for physios to follow.

Ms Becker, who is tasked with selecting Team GB physios for the Beijing Olympics, lists the criteria:

  • an MSc in sports medicine or  Manipulation Association of Chartered Physiotherapists membership
  • four years' experience with a British national governing body of sport, preferably in an Olympic sport
  • a demonstrable ongoing commitment to a British high performance sport or squad – the past two years to include clinical and pitch-side training, and competition environments
  • knowledge of anti-doping procedures
  • experience of working at multisports events and in multidisciplinary teams.

If all this sounds like an Olympian feat, but you have a keen interest in sports, physios from all sectors are welcome to apply to become volunteers through the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games. It is likely around 400 will be needed to work in the Olympic village polyclinic, as well as many other venues.


Richard Budgett, LOCOG chief medical officer, describes the polyclinic as a 'mini-hospital', with a physiotherapy department, a small gym and hydrotherapy pool, treatment rooms and diagnostics, along with clinics for emergency medicine and specialist treatments.  After the Olympics, the polyclinic will become an NHS primary care facility. 'We are hoping to keep the diagnostics suite and put in an elite sports medicine clinic,' says Mr. Budgett.

'We need to persuade the NHS there is a need for this, so that part is far less definite. But if it could become a national centre for sports medicine that would be a marvellous legacy.'

Becoming a 2012 volunteer requires a major commitment in time, as LOCOG will be aiming to enlist physios who can work a minimum of one week at the clinic, to achieve a level of consistency. It is envisaged volunteers will be involved in the test event the year before and help with the Paralympics. 'This is not for people who just think it sounds fun,' adds Ms Becker.

A sports background is necessary because physios may be working with a sport with which they are unfamiliar, so they need a broad knowledge base to ensure confidence and competence. However, there is no reason why someone who works in the NHS during the week cannot gain sufficient sports experience through working with local clubs at the weekend.

'You don't have to be working with Olympic athletes to gain the experience. There are plenty of opportunities, but you need to be committed to the costs in time and effort and to taking courses,' says Ms Becker.  'Everybody at elite level has sat on a soggy pitch at eight in the morning – it's not glamorous. Even as a volunteer you have to muck in, find opportunities and slowly build relationships with teams so that you might be asked to help at events.' She also advises prospective volunteers to take the ACPSM bronze and silver certificates.

Recognising the 2012 Olympics presents a great opportunity for physiotherapists, both in sport and public health, the CSP has completed a scoping exercise. It is in talks with LOCOG about physio roles in the games and is looking at how it can support members by providing advice and training, such as working with ACPSM to deliver a mentor scheme, as well as using it as an opportunity to promote the profession.

 'The Society has a role in leading and providing advice to members and engaging with LOCOG to establish a physiotherapy service,' says Helen Bristow, chair of the CSP London Board. She is keen to stress members should not see the games as London-centric or solely about sports physiotherapy. 'There will be matches in Scotland and Wales and regional training camps that might want to pull in local resources and it will be a good opportunity for physios to network with overseas physiotherapists accompanying visiting teams.'

Physios interested in becoming volunteers can express an initial interest through the London 2012 website, but may not be able to register to work specifically as physios until the chief physiotherapist for LOCOG has been appointed (due in 2008), says Ms Becker. Alternatively, contact the CSP or ACPSM for more information. FL


London 2012


Association of Chartered Physiotherapists in Sports Medicine

Village life

Laura Hanna  was an accredited physio for the England Men's Hockey team in Athens and a GB HQ physio at the Sydney Olympics. She says: 'They were very different experiences, not one better than the other. In Athens I knew the group really well, so I had the highs and lows of their wins and defeats. We had all our meals together – the whole day was time-tabled.

'With the GB HQ it was like working in an elite clinic. You treat whatever comes through the door and cover the smaller sports without physio teams. There is a lot of variety.  I looked after some of the three-day event team and archers at their sites, and once the day is finished you know you have some free time. The downside of HQ is you never really feel part of a team. 

'The whole Olympic experience is surreal – it is a very false environment in that the whole world revolves around the event with no news of the outside world.  It is amazing to see all the different nationalities getting together. And you can get quite distracted by all the famous people. I got a little bit star struck, especially when I shared a breakfast table with Roger Federer.'


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