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How To Find Expert Care

When football players are injured, all they care about is returning to action as soon as possible. This is not always wise, and a doctor who enables players to do that is not necessarily the best choice. So who is, then?
A better option would be to find a doctor who will allow players to come back at just the right time in their recovery process to make sure they can enjoy playing for many more years – and at their personal best level of performance. This already implies that optimum care for football players requires experience not only in state-of-the-art diagnosis and treatment of injuries, but also in aftercare and prevention. However, the term “football medicine” coined by the FIFA Medical Assessment and Research Centre (F-MARC) means much more than that. Doctors trained in this highly specialised field also offer their expertise in football-specific health assessment and performance optimisation, including mental and psychological strategies and diet, as well as comprehensive advice on doping matters.
For example, a midfielder who has suffered a tear of the anterior cruciate ligament of his right knee not only requires a detailed diagnosis with an exact definition of any collateral damage to other structures, thorough consultation on the different treatment options and a detailed and meticulously planned physical therapy and rehabilitation programme. He also needs advice on how to adapt his diet during the period of immobilisation and on any physical deficits which he can actively influence to prevent future injuries. He may also require assistance in developing a personal coping strategy for his enforced absence from play and in combating his fear of being injured again or readiness to take certain risks.
However, players need to know where to find such quality care — and that can often prove difficult. In order to assist teams, coaches and players of all levels in finding such expert care anywhere in the world, should they require it, FIFA now officially accredits established medical centres that have demonstrated leadership in football medicine.
“FIFA is committed to protecting and improving the health of football players worldwide,” says Michel D’Hooghe, MD, chairman of the FIFA Medical Committee. “After all the research and education that has been done, it is only a logical consequence that we offer the football community access to centres of excellence that not only support the mission of FIFA and F-MARC, but actually live it in daily practice.” That mission puts the health and well-being of the player first, regardless of playing schedules, conflicting interests between the different stakeholders within the football community and financial and political issues.
Under the leadership of Prof. Jiri Dvorak, FIFA Chief Medical Officer and chairman of the FIFA Medical Assessment and Research Centre F-MARC, the first FIFA Medical Centre of Excellence was inaugurated at the Schulthess Clinic in Zurich, Switzerland, in May 2005. Since then, many players have been treated in a comprehensive manner thanks to the bringing together of different services and disciplines at what is Europe’s largest orthopaedic clinic in an effort to provide state-of-the-art care. “Often, football players have medical issues that exceed the knowledge of a single expert,” explains Prof. Dvorak. “Therefore, a strong multidisciplinary approach is a precondition to optimise all the different aspects of players’ health.”
In November 2007, the FIFA Medical Committee carefully selected five more centres in Munich, Los Angeles, Johannesburg, Kawasaki and Auckland, thus ensuring that Europe, North America, Africa, Asia and Oceania had at least one centre each. All centres had to submit a comprehensive application based on exacting standards designed to prove their clinical, educational and research expertise as well as their practical involvement in the care of football teams and their active commitment to prevention. All applications were critically reviewed by an independent team of F-MARC experts.
“Knowledgeable individual counselling within a multidisciplinary setting lies at the root of a successful football medicine concept,” stresses Dr D’Hooghe. “This applies not only to the treatment of acute or chronic problems, but also to prevention.” The FIFA Medical Centres of Excellence are committed to promoting injury prevention. The injury prevention programme “F-MARC The 11″ is an integrated part of their practice and they contribute to its further development through their own research projects.
In addition, the FIFA Medical Centres of Excellence will play a vital role in educating and training the next generation of clinical specialists committed to football medicine as well as in developing the FIFA network of football physicians worldwide. “Centres themselves are encouraged to exchange information and discuss problems in a virtual network to enlarge the knowledge on practically applied football medicine and further improve standards of best practice,” adds Prof. Dvorak.
The first phase of selected applications has been considered a test of the practicability of the application procedure. It will be completed by the official inauguration of the new partner clinics. Accreditation is granted for a period of five years before the centres have to reapply. All accredited centres will annually report on their activities. In future, centres worldwide may apply for official accreditation as a FIFA Medical Centre of Excellence, provided that they follow the procedure laid out in detail by F-MARC.
“I want every player to know where to turn to when it comes to health issues,” says FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter. Under his leadership, FIFA has continuously extended its commitment to health care, thus acknowledging its responsibility as the world’s governing body to football and setting an example as an international sports federation.