On Thursday, 19 April 2012, FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter officially endowed a Chair in Cartilage Regeneration at ETH Technical University (Eidgenössischen Technischen Hochschule) in Zurich, ushering in a new chapter in the productive working relationship between FIFA and ETH. Blatter was accompanied by FIFA Chief Medical Officer Professor Jiri Dvorak, chairman of the FIFA Medical Assessment and Research Centre (F–MARC).
Via the research partnership and working relationship, ETH and FIFA combine their expertise to the mutual benefit of both organisations. “ETH strengthens its research focus on medical technology and health, and FIFA gains knowledge benefitting the global family of football," Blatter explained during a subsequent panel discussion on sport and health. “I'm confident we will soon be in a position to announce further medical advances in cartilage regeneration, and in the development of joint research projects."
‘Our full attention’
The panel, which also included Switzerland national coach Ottmar Hitzfeld, ETH professors Robert Riener and Viola Vogel and Professor Dvorak, specifically discussed the question whether professional footballers are ordered back into action too early after injury. “The implementation of the FIFA 11+ Prevention Program has reduced injuries by 30 to 50 per cent, not only among professionals but also in amateur football," Dvorak confirmed.
In the light of the recent tragic death of 25-year-old Italian pro Piermario Morosini, who died of a heart attack suffered during a second division match between Livorno and Pescara last Saturday, the FIFA President strongly emphasised that “there can be no compromise in our focus on player health, which demands our full attention".
Professionals at the highest levels nowadays routinely contest 50, 60 or even 70 matches per season. “Does it make sense to be playing ever more frequently at shorter intervals? Where are the physical and psychological limits?" Blatter asked, pointing out the responsibility for player health which he himself also shares. “Perhaps it makes financial sense. That I do not know, but it is definitely not always healthy and reasonable,” he noted.
Deeper and stronger commitment
Player health has always assumed a central role in FIFA’s numerous development projects. Initiatives such as Goal, Grassroots, Football for Hope and 11 For Health incorporate aspects of this complex and extensive subject. Last but not least, the 2010 FIFA World Cup Legacy Trust, which fully set about its tasks with Wednesday's inaugural meeting at South African FA (SAFA) headquarters in Johannesburg, is also concerned with questions of health.
“Football's popularity will be used as a platform in schools to raise awareness of a healthy lifestyle, thereby making an active contribution to improving public health and reducing costs,” commented Professor Dvorak. “At this time, the program has been successfully established in 11 African and two Latin American countries. For me as a doctor, it is a privilege to promote these projects."
“Every year, we invest sums in the three-figure millions in these and other projects,” commented FIFA President Blatter. “We wish to strengthen this commitment even further, because in the light of football's boom, the intense, increasingly professional match operations and medical advances, FIFA regards research as increasingly important." Blatter specifically also referred to grassroots sport and the millions of young people who play football on every continent, for whom the game offers a perspective, orientation and joie de vivre.
Long-term investment and service to society
Liaising closely with academic institutions, FIFA has supported sports medical research for almost 20 years. The task now is to intensify these efforts still further, preventing injury not merely insofar as possible, but also accelerating recovery from injury. In this context, the FIFA Medical Assessment and Research Centre (F-MARC), a unit of Schulthess Hospital in Zurich, is FIFA's flagship project, producing important contributions to researching the prevention and relief of sports injuries.
F-MARC has successfully worked with ETH for a number of years. “The research partnership for cartilage regeneration with ETH is a logical consequence which we wish to strengthen with the professorship we are supporting," continued Blatter.
Further research is undoubtedly worth pursuing, as wear and tear on the human musculoskeletal system presents the world of medicine with significant problems. Osteoporosis, arthritis, back pain and rheumatism are among the most common medical problems suffered by older people. FIFA’s commitment is intended to contribute to fundamental research, for the public good and extending beyond the footballing world.
“My greatest desire for FIFA’s commitment is that it contributes to science succeeding in making the breakthrough in cartilage and general osteoarthritis research in the years ahead," said the FIFA President. “This would be a service to society, giving something to young and old from every social class on every continent, and on a long-term basis too."
Second FIFA Medical Conference
The spotlight also falls on the commitment of world football's governing body to the subject of health on 23 and 24 May, when leading officials and medical personnel from all 208 member associations gather in Budapest for the second FIFA Medical Conference, to discuss vital topics related to medicine and football. The event takes place directly prior to the 62nd FIFA Congress on 25 May, also in the Hungarian capital.