Following the election of Michel Platini as president of UEFA, our institution is now moving closer to its origins: in other words, it is moving closer to the game of football. It is a fact that the complexities of today's administrative, legal and political connotations expose us to the risk of forgetting our basic product – the ball – and that the top items on all our agendas have to be football, football matches and the best ways of protecting the game.
Practical medical issues
Exactly the same principle applies to UEFA's Medical Committee. Sometimes people can be lured down such sidetracks as scientific congresses and fail to remember that our real responsibility is to address all the practical medical issues related directly to the game itself.
A quarter of a century ago, medical resources were directed almost exclusively to the treatment of injuries. Since then, we have come through a period which could be described as a real medical revolution. We have benefited from major advances in the domains of orthopedia, physiology, psychology and pharmacology. We have seen substantial developments in our visions of prevention programmes, of progressive post-surgery rehabilitation, of sensible and sensitive medical protection afforded to young players – who should not be treated as 'miniature adults'.
Women's game grows
At the same time, the explosive growth of women's football has demanded our attention in terms of establishing a specific approach to the special aspects derived from the relationship between women, girls and the game of football.
Specific medical programmes
Other issues, such as hygiene, nutrition and hydration, underestimated for so many years in our sporting discipline, are nowadays rightly considered as factors which can decide the final result. I would also like to draw attention to the advances made in areas which are hidden slightly further away from the public eye, such as medical programmes specifically devised for referees and for goalkeepers.
No to doping – yes to ethics
In the meantime, I think it is fair to say that every team doctor has been keeping track of developments in the field of doping methods and doping substances: blood transfusions, growth hormones, epopoietin and other substances which have taken the place of amphetamines. The products have changed, but our principles have not: We are still saying 'no' to doping and 'yes' to ethics, to the integrity of our competitions and to the welfare of our athletes.
The globalisation of our sport has created some demanding situations in which we need to take a medical stance. We need to address issues that are becoming more frequent in professional football, such as jet-lag and the effects of playing at different altitudes or in extreme climatic conditions. We still need to establish and enforce certain minimal criteria in matches and tournaments. We still have a lot of work to do in the field of football-specific education aimed at developing the team doctors of the future.
Influencing the laws
Sports medicine also exerts a direct influence on the Laws of the Game. Medical evidence has been the determining factor in decisions taken by the International Board on facets such as the tackle from behind or the use of the elbow. The constant evolution of the game obliges us, the people responsible for the medical care which surrounds it, to re-educate on a continual basis – and not in the lecture room of a university but on the field of play and in the areas which are directly related to our footballing organisations.
The team doctor of yesteryear, isolated and very much a solo performer, has progressively been replaced by an effective medical team which offers total medical backing to the players who take the field. Everybody – including coaches and administrators – directly concerned about the results of football matches agrees in unison that the standard of the medical care offered to the players has a great influence on the standard of performance.
The beautiful game
In other words, medical staff these days have more responsibility than ever before. The beautiful game is based on a blend of incredible simplicity and incredible complexity: the same applies to football medicine.
This article is an abridged version of the editorial column in the latest official UEFA publication "Medicine Matters". Click here
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