If there’s one aspect of football that has changed considerably over the last decades it is certainly the medical field. Football medicine, as it’s usually called, has undergone a real revolution with, among others, major developments in the prevention of injuries and other health threats and the establishment of strict anti-doping protocols. FIFA has played a central role in this evolution, under the leadership of Dr. Michel D’Hooghe, the Belgian doctor who is now celebrating 25 years as Chairman of the FIFA Medical Committee.
On the occasion of this anniversary, the Medical Committee met today in the home region of D’Hooghe, in the Belgian city of Knokke-Heist. It was an opportunity to look back at the progress of football medicine in recent years and discuss current medical priorities and challenges. FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter was there to honour D’Hooghe in recognition of his long lasting commitment to football and commend the achievements of FIFA in the medical field.
"He is the man who brought a new dimension to sport medicine, starting with prevention and also education of people", said Blatter, before describing D'Hooghe as a real "humanist".
D’Hooghe has dedicated his life to football. Starting in the early 1970s as team doctor of local club, FC Brugge, he then occupied key responsibilities at all levels of world football. In his homeland, he’s been President of the national league, President of the Belgian FA during one of national team’s most successful periods in the 1980s, in charge of the organisation of UEFA EURO 2000, and then back to his first love in 2003 as President of FC Brugge. On the international stage,
D’Hooghe has also been a member of the FIFA Executive Committee since 1988, which led him to take part in several other FIFA Committees over the years, notably the Local Organising Committee for the FIFA World Cup, while also chairing the UEFA Medical Committee.
At a press conference following the Medical Committee meeting, Dr. D’Hooghe and Prof. Jiri Dvorak, FIFA’s Chief Medical officer, highlighted the fundamental changes that have affected sport medicine over the last two decades, an evolution that can be summarised as a move from ‘Medicine for football’ to ‘Football for health’, in which the key word is prevention.
D'Hooghe recalled his time as a team doctor: "The only question I was asked every weekend was, ‘Can he play on Sunday?’. If the answer was yes then I was a good doctor, but if the answer was no, I was a bad doctor. Football medicine back then was only about treatment of injuries".
Since then FIFA has introduced a number of measures to prevent injuries of players, with changes of rules for instance, but also to avoid other health threats such as cases of Sudden Cardiac Death (SCD) that have recently been more frequent in football. On this topic, Prof. Dvorak confirmed the introduction at the next FIFA Confederations Cup in June of a FIFA medical emergency bag that will include a defibrilator to treat potential cases of sudden cardiac arrest. This emergency bag will then be distributed to all Member Associations of FIFA.
On one of the other field of work of the medical committee, anti-doping, D'Hooghe and Dvorak confirmed the introduction of a biological profile, including urine and blood tests, for the upcoming FIFA Confederations Cup and FIFA World Cup in Brazil, where all players will have to go through in- and out-of-competition tests.
Dvorak also announced that, in 2014, FIFA will organise a scientific consensus conference on anti-doping in sport, where all major sports federations would be invited as well as the IOC, WADA, laboratories, scientists and of course athletes.
He said: "Our current anti-doping strategies were developed in the ‘70s. The time has come to rethink them. Today we spend more than $500m per year on anti-doping in sports in general, we need to ask the question if we invest it in the right direction.”