The UEFA Medical Committee held its latest meeting in Nyon this week to discuss the changing face of sports medicine. The 13-member committee, comprising experts from across Europe, has seen the scope of its work broaden considerably as football has evolved into a global phenomenon.
"At the start, we talked often and almost exclusively about anti-doping measures at the next tournament," said the committee's chairman, Dr Michel D'Hooghe. "Since football has become globalised, new problems have emerged. Firstly, the problem of jet-lag, and also the problem of football at altitude. We didn't have those sorts of problems 50 years ago. Now, they are issues that we must address."
Impact on players
Changes in the game have also had an impact on players in terms of the injuries sustained. A player's knees have always borne the brunt of his profession, but the greater physical demands placed on the modern-day footballer have seen a wider range of knee ligament injuries occurring, while other problems that were once a rarity have now become an everyday issue for team doctors to resolve.
"I wouldn't dare say that we didn't see them, but I would say that we see them much more often today, and it is always in terms of the amount of work done and overwork," said Dr D'Hooghe. "I'm talking about tendonitis - in the groin, of the patellar tendon, or of the achilles, for example, which have become much more frequent. One has to be meticulous in the preventative examinations of footballers so that, when there is an injury like that, we correct it before he begins training."
Prevention is also the key word in avoiding a repeat of recent tragedies where a player has died on the pitch after a heart attack. Following a report by the UEFA Medical Committee, the UEFA Executive Committee decided in December 2007 to initiate mandatory cardiac screening for all players taking part at UEFA EURO 2008™. Dr D'Hooghe hopes the idea will filter down from the international stage through to the echelons below.
"The first thing to do to try and ensure that it doesn't happen - or at least that the number of such incidents is reduced - is prevention... to say to players: 'Have your heart tested,' if possible before each season, to be almost certain that their hearts can cope with the physical and mental demands placed on them," said Dr D'Hooghe. "If we, the doctors of the national associations, manage to do that on an international level, I hope that club doctors will say to themselves: 'If they do that, we should be doing that, too.'"
UEFA EURO 2008™will also see new ground broken in the fight against doping in football, with all 16 finalists having signed up to the Anti-Doping Charter for the tournament (Click here for more details). Each of the teams will face an unannounced visit from testers at least once prior to the start of the competition, while blood as well as urine samples will be taken for the very first time. Dr D'Hooghe declared himself "delighted" at the relatively few positive doping cases in the European game, but warned that though the battle may have been won, the fight must go on.
"I think the fear of being caught remains great," he said. "Some people ask whether the testing programme justifies the huge investment required to fund it. I would answer 'yes', because if we stopped doping controls for that reason, then the results would not be the same in a year's time. We have to continue in our efforts."
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