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The London Olympics: A Risky Business?


The London 2012 Olympic Games have become synonymous with discussions about risk. They have been termed the first ‘risk-based’ Olympics, in terms of the wide range of systems put in place to manage and mitigate the risk associated with its staging [1]. The ‘Great Olympic Personal Risk Bubble’ discussed the huge financial risk some people take to acquire tickets to key events in the ticket lottery [2]. Then there is the personal risk inherent in each sport, which each Olympic athlete pushes to the extreme in order to attain the highest goals [3].

In the field of mental health, risk is often talked about in relation to behaviours such as suicide, self-harm, aggression and violence. However, discussions about personal risk tend to feature strongly in any therapeutic session, as people grapple to recover a better quality of life. People, and even organisations, can become paralysed as aversion to risk becomes stronger, or perceived costs outweigh perceived benefits. Our relationship with risk is often driven by fear and restriction, but risk can also be the very source of pleasure itself. The Olympic athletes and those who engage in extreme sports, become highly skilled in making decisions to balance the gain of pleasure and potential harm. Learning to take risks is an important area of development for children and adolescents, and is a key factor in developing resilience [4].

Positive Risk Taking

Within the field of mental health, Positive Risk Taking (PRT) is a therapeutic approach that promotes the taking of risks as a deliberate and planned strategy designed to enhance quality of life. It promotes the view that some individuals may want to take a risk to achieve a positive outcome (5). Highlighting key problems, then identifying and developing key strengths to address these, can build hope that change is achievable. Therapists, like coaches, can help to contain risk and help a person tolerate short-term discomfort, for longer-term positive gains.

In a modern society, Giddens (6) suggested that the risk climate is unsettling for everyone; no one escapes. This is reflected in the media coverage of the 2012 Games, and the number of people now seeking help for their mental health. Our clinical work is supported by research, showing that the athletes competing in the 2012 Olympic Games are not immune from mental health problems (7), but keeping risks balanced and having key support, both during and after the games, can facilitate an optimum quality of life.


1. Jennings, W. (2009). London 2012: A risk based Olympics? Risk and Regulation, 18 (Winter), pp 14-18.

2. Lane, M. & Cronin, F. (2011). The Great Olympic Personal Risk Bubble. BBC News Magazine, 27.4.2011.

3. Howe, P.D. (2004). Sport, professionalism and pain; ethnographies of injury and risk. Psychology Press.

4. Titerton, Mike; Smart, Helen Risk, resilience and vulnerability in children and adolescents in relation to long-term conditions: the example of Eastern Europe and Central Asia. Journal of Nursing and Healthcare of Chronic Illness, Volume 2, Number 2, June 2010 , pp. 153-163.

5. Morgan, S. (2004). Positive risk taking; an idea whose time has come. Health Care Risk Report, pp.18-19.

6. Giddens, A. (1999). Runaway World; How globalisation is reshaping our world. Profile Books.

7. Barker-Ruchti, N, Barker, D; Lee, J and Rynne, S. (2011) Preparing Olympic Athletes for Lives Outside of Elite Sport: Towards Best Practice. IOC postgraduate research grant 2011.

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