A new concept of FUTURO III courses in football medicine has proven to be successful in promoting prevention and improving medical care for African players. In Nairobi, Kenya, 40 participants, for the first time not only a mix of physicians from different specialities but also physiotherapists and first aiders, convened to learn about expert care for teams and individual players.
In his opening address, Titus Kasuve, the Vice-President of Football Kenya Limited, reminded the attendants of a sad drawback: "The majority of African players have no access to proper football medicine. We continue to lose our players because they suffer injuries." Compared to European players, African players are often inadequately treated and therefore unable to achieve their pre-injury performance level after treatment and rehabilitation. Exact information on injuries and rehabilitation in African players is scarce and hard to find.
Accordingly, the packed three-day schedule addressed all major injuries found in football players, as well as their diagnosis and treatment. To meet the needs of all participants, the focus was on practical sessions on examination techniques, for example. Further issues discussed were pre-competition medical assessments and female players, both with an explicit stress on the prevention of injuries. "Prevention should always be our priority," stressed Prof. Jiri Dvorak, MD, FIFA Chief Medical Officer and Chairman of the FIFA Medical Assessment and Research Centre, F-MARC, "and it is even more important when treatment possibilities are restricted. The new F-MARC 'The11+ - a complete programme to prevent injuries' has proved successful in reducing injuries in general by a third and severe injuries by a half. I feel it is not only more important, but might prove to be even more effective in African players."
The participants had abundant opportunities to test the effectiveness of the exercises on their own movements and muscles as the most important parts of the course were the daily morning and afternoon sessions on "The 11+". Although the programme needs to be implemented by coaches, the team physician and the physiotherapist need to know how to perform the exercises correctly in order to encourage and fully support the implementation.
Dr Demitri Constantinou, one of the main lecturers at the course and the Director of the first FIFA Medical Centre of Excellence in Africa at Witwatersrand University in Johannesburg, South Africa, will put the effectiveness of "The 11+" to the test in Africa. Together with F-MARC, he has started a large study in adolescent disadvantaged male players, the first time ever that this has been done on the continent. "It is important that we look after our grassroots players too, and not only after the elite players. They are also the ones who can benefit most from football as a promoter of personal and social development. But to be able to fully tap into this potential of the game, we need to prevent injuries."
Football promotes personal, social development and health
He alluded to the new "Football for Health" approach of F-MARC in which football physicians play a major role, using the power of football as a preventive and educative means. At the invitation of F-MARC, and to give an example of the immense potential, the Mathare Youth Sports Association (MYSA), an African-based NGO, presented its programmes. They aim at promoting life skills and empowering young people through the creation of opportunities to develop physically and personally while engaging in community development. MYSA engages in girl/child empowerment through football, and in its projects, it promotes a healthy lifestyle, AIDS prevention and hygiene.
"The worldwide FIFA network of football physicians is not only meant to improve standards of care in football medicine, but also to use football as physical exercise and an educational means to enhance health and wellbeing," said. Prof. Dvorak. "We have an unchallenged and uniquely powerful tool in our hands for the prevention of all kinds of diseases - we just need to use it!"