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Olympic medallist Nicola White seeks legal advice over claims of GB Hockey’s ‘systemic failings’

Having battled to reclaim her place, White says she hit ‘rock bottom’ on learning that GB Hockey wanted nothing to do with her last summer

ByFiona Tomas for The Daily Telegraph 10 August 2021 • 6:26pm

Having battled to reclaim her place, White says she hit 'rock bottom' on learning that GB Hockey wanted nothing to do with her last summer

2016 Rio Olympics - Hockey - Preliminary - Women's Pool B India v Britain - Olympic Hockey Centre - Rio de Janeiro, Brazil - 08/08/201
After having to claim Universal Credit, White has criticised GB Hockey over its treatment of athletes CREDIT: Reuters

Double Olympic hockey medallist Nicola White is seeking legal advice over what she has described as GB Hockey’s “systemic failings” in its treatment of athletes, just days after its women’s team won a bronze medal at the Tokyo Olympics.

White, who won gold at Rio 2016 and bronze at London 2012, says she is considering taking legal action against the governing body after she struggled to return to the GB programme following her recovery from a debilitating head injury.

“I just feel like systemic failings keep happening and we’re losing talent that we shouldn’t be losing,” White told Telegraph Sport. “There are many good players we’ve lost over the years who I’ve been sad to see go. I know it’s a cut throat environment, but it’s not just me who feels this way.

“It’s happened to athletes before where the way they [GB Hockey] handle things isn’t quite right, although it’s very difficult for us to talk about it through fear. That’s why I had to be honest and speak out about this. I don’t think it’s right for athletes to be treated this way at all.”

Last year, England Hockey apologised to player Suzy Petty after a Hockey World News article on her being dropped and admitting there were “shortcomings” in the way it handled her axing from the GB women’s programme while she was battling an eating disorder. 

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AUCKLAND – Sentinel Hockey World League final women Match id 10302 ENG v China Foto: Suzy Petty and David RALPH WORLDSPORTPICS COPYRIGHT FRANK UIJLENBROEK

In May, HWN announced Great Britain international Emily Defroand was forced to retire at the age of 26 after a number of serious injuries, while in February last year the former GB captain Alex Danson retired after a long-term concussion sustained outside of the sport.

White, who has a total 186 international caps for England and Great Britain, announced her retirement from international hockey earlier this month after spending two years out of the game following a serious concussion that occurred during a Commonwealth Games warm-up match in 2018. 

Having battled to reclaim her place in the side, she says she hit “rock bottom” on learning that GB Hockey wanted nothing else to do with her in a Zoom meeting last summer, despite successfully managing her symptoms for post-concussive vestibular migraines. 

White was even forced to turn to benefits to “keep a roof over my head” after being removed from the GB programme in December 2019. Losing her UK Sport funding was devastating as it had enabled her to access The Priory mental health clinic in London after she hit a major depression in 2018. “You never think, as an athlete, you’ll need to go on universal credit, but what choice do you have? We’re not classed as a worker or an employee,” she said.

After being told last year that she did not stand a chance of being considered for Tokyo, White has since “slumped back into quite a big depression” and her symptoms, which had significantly improved after taking a new migraine drug, Aimovig, have regressed.

The 33 year-old maintains she was denied any form of fitness test or trial by GB Hockey and pleaded with the organisation to set her “objective targets to hit for September” last year but was told there was enough talent already in the squad and that she would have to be scouted through her club. 

“I never expected to just walk back in, I was fully appreciative of the situation,” said White, who returned to club hockey last October after being granted a ‘return to play’ assessment in March 2020 to determine whether she was fit enough to rejoin its central programme. 

She alleges that GB Hockey failed to reschedule the return-to-play assessment after the Covid pandemic hit. “I needed to show I was fit enough, that I could play hockey,” she said. “Being told that the reason behind the decision was ‘You’ve been out for two years’ I feel was quite disappointing.”

A statement from GB Hockey said: “We worked very closely with Nicola and her support network following her injury in March 2018, with support and bespoke medical care in place through to early 2021. We have had regular meetings with Nicola seeking to support her and ensure clarity about optimal medical care, broader support and clarity about a potential return to the Great Britain programme.

“Her initial injury management followed International Guidelines on the management of concussion injuries. Throughout her injury Nicola was managed extensively by the Great Britain Hockey medical team, the medical team at the English Institute of Sport as well as external experts in this area. At all times Nicola’s physical and mental wellbeing were the main priority.

“In November 2020 Nicola requested clarity with regards to her potential return. At this point, we communicated that unfortunately, with such limited international match play opportunities between December 2020 and Olympic selection in May 2021, and with such limited training and match play for Nicola over the preceding 2.5 years, we did not see her realistically challenging for selection. The door remained open for her to return in the future.”

White says she believes it is important to speak out over what she feels is poor treatment by the governing body. “I can go to sleep at night feeling I didn’t let myself down, it was the system that failed me,” she said. “I don’t want other athletes to experience the same, so if I can impact change for the future by highlighting my story, that is what I will focus on.”

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