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Dr Rod Jaques on the role of the EIS so far during COVID-19

30 July 2020

Dr Rod Jaques could not be prouder of the work his colleagues at the English Institute of Sport have been doing in the face of enormous challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Rod, Director of Medical Services at the EIS, has been a key figure during this period, providing expert medical guidance to the EIS, to the sports with which the EIS works, and also on government policy regarding high performance sport as a whole.

The EIS has worked closely with sports, as well as other groups externally, to share intelligence on how to get Olympic and Paralympic sport up and running again and keep athletes fit and healthy.

The EIS also supported the development of and contributed to government policy towards high performance sport by being part of on an innovative panel of doctors and sport providers, invited by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport and hosted by UK Sport through its CEO Sally Munday.

In addition, the EIS have also worked alongside their fellow sport institutes in the UK in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland as well as working with Australia and New Zealand to encourage the sharing of intelligence worldwide. 

The EIS has played a key part in supporting sports and athletes during the COVID-19 crisis, providing creative solutions to question from how athletes should report illnesses to how sports and athletes should return to training at sites.  

“Very quickly we became the glue for sports to come together and share experiences, particularly through their medical and science departments. 

“I think if the EIS didn’t exist the last four months would have been really difficult for the high performance system, and I hope that we’ve added value to the system to help Olympic and Paralympic sport move forward in this very difficult time.”

“Myself and my colleagues have done tremendous work, and I’ve witnessed tremendously hard work from across so many teams.

“We’ve all dealt with things that we’ve never seen before and we’ve adapted. I think we’ve been a force for good here.”

There was a time earlier this year when no one could have guessed how significant the crisis would go on to be.

And even as news reports showed the pandemic getting ever-closer to the UK in February and March, the severity of its potential impact remained largely unknown.

But, the effect on sport began to become clear to those at the EIS and as time went on there had to be a push to change the way athletes train.

Rod added: “We saw on the news medical facilities being overwhelmed in Italy. With this happening in Europe, this became a real problem which we knew would come to the UK.

“Training and competitions kept going but in the EIS we really started to think, actually, this is going to have a significant impact factor.

“We got to the point towards the end of March where we were seeing a tremendous vulnerability in the concentration of athletes and service providers of medicine and science in our high performance centres. We had people who are heavy breathing because they were exercising and athletes mingling closely in these areas, which meant they were highly vulnerable.

“The EIS wanted to ring alarm bells with UK Sport and with the high performance system saying this may have a high impact on us and we should think about closing down centres.

“We drove the process through UK Sport to get national governing bodies to really consider Plan B. Plan B had to be athletes go home to train and make do with what they could. This planning had to be done very quickly.”

And as the crisis developed so did the thinking at the EIS – sport may be the focus normally, but there was a far bigger role to be played.”

“Our key focus was that we had a social responsibility,” Rod said.

“Professional sport is important to us, but we had a role to play for the health of the nation.

All of the insights gained and shared across the globe by the EIS team have resulted in our EIS sites being adapted so that EIS people, sports and athletes can return to training in an appropriate environment.

Rod said: “This last four months has taught us what a small world we are in Olympic and Paralympic sport relative to the rest of society that we live in and that we have a huge responsibility to make certain that we take our share of the burden in society.

And it’s helped to build strong relationships with sports the EIS works with. Rod added: “When the going gets tough, we’re there for you [the sport] and we will work through some really difficult and complex problems with you and share knowledge as much as possible.”