Day two of the 3rd International Football Medicine Conference organised at Sun City on Saturday dealt with, amongst other things, discussions on how football can be used to improve health conditions and the lifestyle of not only footballers, but whole communities on the African continent.

Jiri Dvorak, FIFA Chief Medical Officer and Chairman of F-MARC, started the first session of the day with the presentation of recently completed research conducted by the University of Copenhagen and the Swiss Federal Institute confirming that recreational football indeed is the ideal exercise to reduce risk factors for diseases such as low cardio respiratory fitness and obesity. In the research, football was compared against the effects of jogging and cycling. After only three weeks of playing recreational football twice a week - each time for 45 minutes - significant results, including increased muscle mass and improved cardio respiratory fitness, had been reached.

To fully exploit the positive effect of football, any negative effects such as injuries have to be minimised. Exercise-based prevention programmes, as formulated in “The 11+”, showed that about 150 million injuries per year can be prevented if proper and regular warm-up is applied. The implementation of the “The 11+”  within national programmes is a pre-condition for using football as an educational tool.

Professor Dvorak noted that it was important for countries to emphasise the importance of educating young players on health issues. “We cannot overestimate it. For us, it is important that we spread this message and initiate programmes that steer our communities towards that direction,” Dvorak said.

One such initiative is “The 11 for Health” programme. A pilot study was conducted over the last year in Khayelitsha using children between the ages of 11 and 15. Khayelitsha is an impoverished settlement outside Cape Town in South Africa.

The study
“The 11 for Health” programme has been built upon an analysis of the top ten health risks factors according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). Professor Colin Fuller, who supervised the pilot project, said he was more than satisfied with the effects achieved in the respective studies that have been conducted thus far. After the pilot study, the project was extended to Mauritius and Zimbabwe where “11 for Health” is implemented. “If the results (are) as convincing as the first pilot project, we aim at a roll-out of this initiative from 2011 across Africa and South America," he said.

To help ensure that these programmes are implemented and integrated into daily life, a number of key football players have adopted one of the 11 key health messages which include such things as having respect for girls and women (Thierry Henry), adopting a healthy diet (Lionel Messi) and being diligent about washing one's hands (Carlos Puyol).

Souadou Diabate from AMPJF emphasised that it was important to use women’s football as a tool to educate young girls in Africa not only about the game, but also about some of the social challenges faced by young people in the African continent.

“We must initiate change in the African continent using football. We have to (educate) girls and woman (on these issues). We also need to break social taboos and show people the reality, and there is no better way to achieve that than with football.”

Africa in the spotlight
In a dedicated session, FIFA and F-MARC invited African football medicine experts to submit their research projects. Of the nine submissions, one of the debates that certainly managed to get delegates engaged was the discussion on whether - and/or how - traditional medicine can be implemented in football.

The matter proved to be of particular interest, as this year is the first in which a FIFA World Cup™ will be played on the African continent. It is therefore no surprise that there was much interest and many questions from those in the audience who were not acquainted with African traditional medicine and the history of its use on the continent.

Professor Winton Hawksworth walked the more than 300 conference delegates through the history of the use of traditional medicine in Africa. “Many years ago, a lot of people in Africa used traditional medicine to heal and treat disease. Plants are a primary source of medicine in many African communities. These vary and it is important to get an insightful understanding of them. One of them is Umhlabelo (made of dried leaves of the Nidorella plant, an aloe). Umhlabelo is used for various things, including to heal muscles and strains,” explained Hawksworth.

The day concluded with a special award to Basadi Akoonyatse for her achievements in the development of an effective, multi-professional national medical committee based on volunteerism in Botswana. For her work, she was awarded the Football for Health award by the Chairman of the FIFA Medical Committee Michel D’Hooghe and the F-MARC Chairman Professor Jiri Dvorak.