FIFA and LOC medical officers lay foundations
© FIFA.com

Far in advance of the official start to the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™, the leading medical staff of FIFA and the LOC medical officers met on 5 and 6 October in Kimberley. The purpose was to discuss FIFA requirements regarding the medical services to be provided at this flagship event, to assess the resources already available and, importantly, to establish trust and friendship between colleagues.

After the opening ceremony at the Mayibuye Sports Science Institute, FIFA executive committee member and Chairman of the FIFA Sports Medical Committee, Michel D'Hooghe, MD, welcomed the designated LOC medical team and introduced the FIFA delegation presented by him, FIFA Chief Medical Officer Professor Jiri Dvorak and Dr Katharina Grimm, Head of FIFA's medical office. He gave a short overview on the achievements of the FIFA Medical Assessment and Research Centre F-MARC and the history of doping control in football.

The LOC General Medical Officer, Victor Ramathesele, MD, then presented the appointed LOC medical officers and the respective venues where they will be allocated. His brief summary of their professional background demonstrated the exceptionally high qualifications and expertise of these colleagues. Dr Ramathesele also presented the designated members of the LOC Medical Advisory Board, who will function as a consulting body.

Following that, Professor Dvorak explained the task and responsibility shared between the LOC and the FIFA medical teams. He laid out the details of the FIFA requirements with regard to the health care of participating teams, FIFA delegation and audience, as well as concerning doping control facilities and staff. He stressed the importance of designated medical facilities and the fundamental mediating role of the LOC medical officers in facilitating access to their services.

A 'first' in the preparation of medical services at a FIFA World Cup™ was the attendance of the Minister of Health at this workshop. Dr Manto Tshabalala-Msimang stated that the government will allow for no compromise in providing optimal infrastructure and qualified staff adequate for the largest sport competition ever hosted in Africa. The national health World Cup Unit currently finalises a master plan based on the input of fifteen expert groups. An extraordinary budget of 286 million rand has been reserved for the preparations of the South African health facilities.

"You may rest assured that we will do everything in our power to ensure that the tournament is a great success. More importantly, we want to leave FIFA with no doubt that the trust displayed by awarding the 2010 FIFA World Cup to South Africa is well placed," stated Dr Tshabalala-Msimang.

Further presentations by Dr Victor Ramathesele elaborated on the organisational structure of the LOC medical team, as well as the general strategic plan for the implementation of the required medical services and the emergency plan.

When setting forth the strategy of FIFA in the fight against doping, Dr D'Hooghe reminded his colleagues that FIFA was among the first international federations to introduce regular doping controls in 1970. While he left no doubt on the determined position of FIFA to combat doping in football by any means possible, he stressed the low incidence of positive doping cases in football - between o.3 and 0.4 per cent and mainly due to recreational drugs. "Besides holding up the ethics of sport and fair play, continuous education and, above all, the protection of the health of the players remain the primary focuses of FIFA's anti-doping activities."

Professor Dvorak explained the principles of the FIFA procedure and its transparency, which leaves no place for cheating. "FIFA has always insisted on the need for physicians to carry out the control in order to guarantee not only for confidentiality and mutual respect, but also for the education of the players during the sample taking procedure," he added. It was agreed to conduct a workshop for local doping control officers in South Africa in 2008.

The information on doping control was completed by Dr Pieter J. van der Merwe, PhD, Head of the WADA-accredited Doping Control Laboratory in Bloemfontain, who presented the comprehensive services offered by his institution. He confirmed that all FIFA requirements will be met, with some more extensive preparation needed in case blood samples are taken.

As part of FIFA's 'Win in Africa with Africa' initiative, Professor Dvorak finally reported on 'Football for Health in Africa'. This project of F-MARC focuses on football not only as a health enhancing leisure activity, but also as an ideal communication tool for promoting self-protection against disease. The respective study will need to rely heavily on the support of African physicians. The LOC medical team could play a crucial role in this initiative which aims at objectives far beyond 2010.

In his closing remarks, Dr Michel D'Hooghe expressed his deep satisfaction with the results of the workshop. "Never, ever have I seen such an impressive level of expertise and skills among the LOC medical officers. I have not the least doubt that you will make the 2010 FIFA World Cup not only a successful but also your personal South African event. I am looking forward to our future collaboration as much as to further deepen our friendship."