Cricket Australia (CA) medical experts have found that stress associated with strict bio-secure bubbles have a "cumulative impact" on players' mental wellbeing and said there is a need to strike a balance to avoid "excessive" mental health toll.
According to a report in the Sydney Morning Herald, CA's mental health lead Matt Burgin and chief medical officer Dr. John Orchard made the observations in an article for the British Association of Sport and Exercise Medicine. "The stress associated with competition hubs may have had a cumulative impact, and it is possible that the negative effects were experienced weeks and months after the event," they wrote.
"Athletes often lauded for high levels of resilience, are being challenged to adapt and develop new ways of coping to maintain their mental health and wellbeing. While much of the reported symptoms associated with bio-security hubs can be sub-clinical, there is a limit to the players resources and tolerance of this way of life."
"Players anecdotally reported the avoidance of 'hard quarantine' (14-day hotel quarantine) as a factor in decision-making for involvement in further cricket competitions," they added.
Both the experts stressed on the need to strike a balance between bio-security bubbles and the avoidance of "excessive" mental health costs to the players. "Should there be a silver lining to a bleak situation, it has been the confirmation of players taking ownership for their mental health," Burgin and Orchard wrote.
"The widespread acceptance of players making personal decisions to prioritise their mental health is a cultural shift for Australian sport and is supported by Cricket Australia.
"Players seeking to have 'time at home' is the preferred opportunity cost to further involvement in cricket. These breaks are temporary and illustrate a welcomed balance in the player's self-awareness."
The duo hoped that "following seasons will see vaccination of players and staff and a gradual relaxation of necessary protocols that will allow players a return to relative normality."
"Until then, there will need to be a balance of protocols to keep COVID out of the sport, but with a level of rigour that does not take an excessive toll on the mental health of participants."
While cricketers around the globe have spoken about mental health issues in COVID-19 times, the conversation gathered more steam after it emerged that top English players could boycott the upcoming Ashes as they don't want to be confined to their hotel rooms close to four months.
I don't think people truly understand what it's like to be in a bio-secure bubble and the commitment that is needed, until you've been in that bubble, Professional Cricketers Association director of development and welfare services, Ian Thomas said.
"I sat on a call yesterday where there was a study done into this by the ECB and I think the burnout and almost imprisonment of players in these bio-secure bubbles shouldn't be underestimated."