Dr Mogens Kreutzfeldt, a member of UEFA's medical committee, used the occasion of the 8th UEFA Youth Conference in Cyprus to speak on the subject of the medical activities in UEFA youth competition and illustrate how European football's governing body is constantly evaluating its role in such events.
Dr Kreutzfeldt, who has served as the Danish Football Association's head of medical staff since 1989, divided his presentation into two separate sections; UEFA's anti-doping programme and studies of injury risks. He began with the anti-doping procedure, and outlined UEFA's real preoccupation, saying: "We want to keep the spirit of our sport and keep it clean. Doping is fundamentally opposed to the spirit of our sport."
Keep sport clean
UEFA's motivation in its stringent anti-doping policy, he continued, is to protect players' health, ensure a level playing field and, above all, keep sport clean. The current anti-doping structure has been reviewed, and UEFA's current anti-doping regulations and policies have been harmonised with FIFA and the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).
The current structure came into place in January 2005, and has three key pillars, Kreutzfeldt explained. The first of these is education and information, which aims to increase awareness and provide as much detail as possible. The second pillar is the testing programme, which will be steadily increased in quality and quantity in the near future, both in and out of competition. The third and final pillar is the education of doping control officers, with UEFA aiming to establish yearly seminars to improve the support on offer and, therefore, their performance.
'Protect their health'
"We all love football but our main objective should be to protect the health of our players," Kreutzfeldt added as he moved on to UEFA's injury studies. A number of studies have been carried out over the past two seasons with a number of interesting findings coming out of the research; for example, youth players and older players tend to suffer different types of injuries. Youngsters are more likely to suffer fractures but sustain fewer cartilage injuries, whereas the opposite is true for their senior counterparts.
'Much to learn'
"Every time we learn something new," said Kreutzfeldt. "Every study throws up new questions." The example he used was a study of the 2004/05 UEFA Champions League, in which 12 clubs provided weekly information on their match and training schedules, injuries, climate and so on. From that, certain conclusions on what causes serious knee injuries, among many others, could be drawn. Such was the success of this study that it has been expanded to 18 teams for the current campaign, and will provide invaluable information both to UEFA and the clubs themselves.
Kreutzfeldt's next example was the break between seasons; unsurprisingly, the shorter a player's summer rest period, the more susceptible they are to injury. In addition, the pre-season period is particularly dangerous to young players, who are approximately twice as vulnerable to injuries in this period as in the remainder of the year.
Interestingly, there was a similar risk of injury in the men's and women's UEFA European Championships, although women sustained more damage to their joints but were less likely to suffer fractures. There are, however, more injuries in the latter stages of the UEFA Champions League, leading the study to conclude that the level of play in training has no bearing on the risk of injuries although the more important the match, the more chance a player has of being injured during it.
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