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Athlete autonomy, supportive interpersonal environments and clinicians’ duty of care; as leaders in sport and sports medicine, the onus is on us: the clinicians
  1. Jane S Thornton
  1. Fowler Kennedy Sport Medicine Clinic, London Health Sciences Centre, London, Ontario, Canada
  1. Correspondence to Dr Jane S Thornton, Fowler Kennedy Sport Medicine Clinic, London Health Sciences Centre, London, ON N6A 5W9, Canada; jane.s.thornton{at}

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Excellence for elite athletes demands painstaking attention to detail to all aspects of health, well-being and performance. Researcher and Olympic Taekwondo Gold Medalist Lauren Burns and coauthors1 use the power of the athlete story to argue strongly and convincingly that central to achieving excellence is durable interpersonal support.

‘If we look at an athlete as a whole person, there is a fundamental duty of care to ensure they are supported to become their best, most resilient self, both on and off the field. Athletes therefore need to be encouraged to seek interpersonal support that evolves as they move along their development pathway’.

These sentences, both important, appear sequentially; but I will make one distinction—the onus to create a supportive environment should not rest primarily on athletes.

Where then does the duty of care lie?

According to Fisher et al’s heuristic model,2 the power differential in sport particularly positions coaches to hurt or help their athletes, and as such coaches are responsible for athlete’s welfare.

Those, …

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  • Contributors JST is the sole author of this work.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

  • Provenance and peer review Commissioned; internally peer reviewed.

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