UEFA Medical Committee chairman Dr Michel D'Hooghe speaks about interesting times ahead for the sports medical community in what has become a crucial component within football.
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For more than two decades a driving force in the work of UEFA and FIFA, Dr Michel D'Hooghe currently chairs the Medical Committees of both organisations – and he is delighted with the progress being made.
"It is a great satisfaction," he said, "to see that, these days, medical issues appear regularly on the agendas for UEFA Executive Committee meetings and now carry a much greater weight in decision-making processes."
Michel D'Hooghe's twin passions for football and football medicine can be measured by the honorary presidencies he holds of the Royal Belgian Football Association (URBSFA-KBVB) and his much-loved home-town team, Club Brugge KV, along with 25 years of organising the prestigious annual Brucosport medical congress in his native city.
Yet, after the recent UEFA Medical Symposium staged in Stockholm, he had no qualms in declaring: "This one was very, very satisfying for all sorts of reasons – not least the fantastic collegiate atmosphere created by UEFA and the Swedish Football Association which encouraged us all to discuss, to listen, to exchange views and to go home with an exceptionally good feeling."
Stockholm was also the setting for the first meeting of the new UEFA Medical Committee, where five new members were welcomed on board. The team of 14 – from as many national associations – features Avraham Luzon from Israel as deputy chairman along with Prof. Jan Ekstrand (Sweden), Prof. W Stewart Hillis (Scotland) and Dr Mogens Kreutzfeldt (Denmark) as a trio of vice-chairmen who, between them, have won over 500 caps as doctors for their national sides.
"It is good to blend input and fresh ideas from new colleagues with the excellent ongoing work being done by the more experienced campaigners," said Dr D'Hooghe. "There is a lot of work to do in many different areas – and the fact that, in Stockholm, there were 16 items on the agenda underlines this. We always keep at the front of our minds that we are a football-specific committee. There are a great many congresses on sports medicine but our brief is to focus exclusively on football.
"A committee only performs well if all the members are willing to freely exchange views on medical topics related to football," he added. "Our objectives obviously include close monitoring of anti-doping procedures and results in all of UEFA's national team and club competitions. But, these days, there is a lot more to deal with. Among our other tasks, we initiate and monitor studies and football-related medical projects. We draw up proposals regarding the prevention and treatment of injuries and football-specific medical conditions. And we aim to make significant contributions to medical education within the world of football."
The Stockholm event was especially motivating "because it gave us a lot of issues to address in the future", Dr D'Hooghe explained. "We would do well to go further into the role of the referee, for example. Not only in terms of safeguarding his welfare but with regard to his role in protecting players from injury. We discussed subjects like the so-called 'biological passport' for players; ways of dealing with extreme playing conditions; establishing and enforcing clear guidelines on the medical equipment which needs to be available in stadia; and the need to continue to work towards better dialogue between national team and club doctors.
"In this respect it was positive to have the club doctors involved in our injury research project with us in Stockholm, because they are the people who are working with the players day in, day out. Encouraging specialised knowledge is also one of our aims – which is why we have decided to set up a working group to review the feasibility of introducing a specific qualification for football team doctors. This is just one of our exciting projects for the future."