The polyclinic in the Olympic Village is equipped with state of the art technology. Picture: LOCOG
The polyclinic in the Olympic Village is equipped with state of the art technology. Picture: LOCOG

How volunteer physical therapists will provide a service to all athletes

Physiotherapist Lynn Booth is leading the provision of physical therapy services for the London Olympic and Paralympic Games. With two years’ preparation about to come to fruition, Simon Crompton talks to her about the role physical therapists will play at the Olympics.

For 60 days between 16th July and 15th September, 470 physical therapists will be working with Olympic and Paralympic athletes from all over the globe, in their training, in competition, treating injuries and helping them get the best from their bodies. They will be part of a centrally provided workforce of 850 clinicians, also including 25 osteopaths, 25 chiropractors (the first time these two professions have been formally recruited for the Olympics) and 250 sports massage practitioners.

This multi-disciplinary Olympics clinical resource, termed by the the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games (LOCOG) as “Physical Therapy Services”, is separate from PTs brought by national teams or even by individual athletes. It is a pool of carefully selected volunteers providing their help to any athlete who needs it – particularly from nations that have no medical or physiotherapy teams of their own.

All the volunteers must work a minimum of 10 days – but five are working for the whole duration of the Olympics and the Paralympics. Many will be working at the three Olympic “polyclinics”, or small hospitals – one in the Olympic village in Stratford (athletics), one in Weymouth (sailing) and Egham (rowing). Here they will work alongside doctors specialising in sports medicine, podiatrists, pharmacists, dentists and optometrists. The rest of the PTs will be at all the competition venues and training facilities.

There will be 50 PTs on duty each day in the Polyclinic at the main Olympic Village, 25 on each shift, and close to 100 others at the rowing and sailing polyclinics and training and competition venues. Most of the volunteers – known as Olympic Games Makers – come from the UK and Ireland, but around 5% are from other countries, some from as far afield as Australia and North America. 

Lynn Booth, who was Head Physiotherapist for Team GB at the 1996, 2000 and 2004 Olympics, is the clinical lead for these services.  All of the volunteers, she says, have been recruited according to merit, not where they come from – with PTs interviewed by professional colleagues who know their field back-to-front.  And all have been subject to intensive training in the run-up to the Olympics. 

“I’m absolutely confident in the ability of these people to deliver a great service,” says Lynn. “One of the biggest jobs, and the one I’ve spent a great deal of time on over the past few months, is getting the right skill mix for different events and locations. We’ve tried, as far as possible, to get the volunteers working in fields they’re familiar with.”

“Some of the more experienced physiotherapists, who have the right experience and qualifications, will be at the side of the field of play, ready to help those teams and individuals who do not have their own backup,” says Lynn. She doesn’t anticipate that language differences will pose too many problems. “It’s amazing how many of the volunteers have another language under their belts,” she says.

Lynn has a long history of working with elite sports men and women. She was Chairman of the British Olympic Association's Physiotherapy Committee from 1992-2004, worked at the 1988 and 1992 Olympic Games with the Great Britain Women's Hockey Squad, and until recently was working with national level squads from golf and hockey. 

She has been working full-time on the Olympics since the start of June, though her planning of skill-mix and work allocations started in 2010. She admits that it has been tiring, but with the games about to start, the sense of anticipation is enormous.

“I’m excited when I’m with the Games Makers, because they are so excited – especially on their training days,” she says. “I think they’re going to get an immense amount out of it, and if they don’t regard it as one of the biggest continuing professional development opportunities they’ll ever have, I think they’ll be missing out.”

You can read more about Lynn Booth, and the chartered physiotherapists who have volunteered to provide services at the Games, at the website of the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy

Lynn Booth