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Talking football: Professor Tim Meyer on sports medicine

About UEFA Medical

The chair of UEFA’s Medical Committee and medical director of the Institute of Sport and Preventive Medicine at Saarland University in Germany explains how we are adapting to the constantly shifting landscape of sports medicine.

Modern football is constantly evolving, with innovations changing the playing field, and sports medicine is no different. Whether preventing injuries or furthering our understanding of head injuries, medical progress helps us make the game we love as safe as possible for everyone.

As guardians of the game in Europe, UEFA has set up a dedicated medical unit to advance football medicine and protect every player who steps out on the pitch, from grassroots to the greatest stage. The UEFA Medical Committee and its current chair, Professor Tim Meyer, are central to this work.

"Our overall goal is to make sure that everyone involved in football is medically safe, first and foremost the players."

Professor Tim Meyer

Alongside his role as medical director of the Institute of Sport and Preventive Medicine at Saarland University, Meyer is also the chief medical officer for UEFA EURO 2024 in Germany, having spent 20 years as the German men’s national team’s head doctor until 2021. Here he outlines the current priorities for football medicine.

What is the primary role of the UEFA Medical Committee?

Medicine changes, new knowledge is developed and regular updates are needed. You never know what will happen in the next five years in football medicine, so UEFA needs to be responsive. We continuously assess whether new UEFA regulations or modifications are required – the UEFA minimum medical requirements are a good example. Our overall goal is to make sure that everyone involved in football is medically safe, first and foremost the players.

Watch: UEFA's minimum medical requirements explained

What are the main benefits of UEFA’s decision to establish a dedicated medical unit?

The new medical research grants, for one, plus the fact that the unit is now led by a physician with significant clinical experience. A medical background is advantageous for understanding key topics such as injury patterns or the potential influence of the menstrual cycle on women's football. Of course, you can hardly be an expert in all of them, so it is also about finding the right people to provide greater insight and knowledge. This is also reflected on the medical committee; we have increasingly become a committee that includes experts for several fields of play.

What is the biggest concern in football medicine right now?

Head injuries and heading in children's football. Football is the only sport where you voluntarily use your head, and so we need to take a close look at that. It’s not the only sport with collisions – there are others with much stronger and heavier contacts, and we can learn from them – but heading is unique to our sport, and we have developed our own guidelines. We will continue to monitor new developments and findings in this particular field.

What is UEFA’s approach to understanding the potential long-term risks of heading?

We developed guidelines for a risk-limited approach to heading in 2020 and 2021, and that’s still what UEFA stands for: not to forbid heading but to introduce it in youth football through low-risk adaptation. That means starting with lighter balls or without balls at all – just teaching the technique – combined with awareness of the possible consequences of head injuries.

Recently, UEFA has run two expert panels, on head injuries and heading, to advise us on whether we need to reconsider our position. Our aim is good integration of knowledge from research, but with views from football practitioners. If we achieve that, we will be successful.

How does UEFA ensure that football doctors are fully informed about advances in the field of sports medicine?

UEFA has a regular football doctor education programme, targeting all member associations. At a typical event, one doctor per association is invited, and participants are asked to organise events in their own countries to distribute and cascade that knowledge. We know this is an ambitious task, as our 55 members have varying states of research and medicine development, but it works well. Additional communication channels, such as social media, also have an important role in sharing information and new findings.

Netherlands goalkeeper Daphne van Domselaar  receives medical treatment
Netherlands goalkeeper Daphne van Domselaar receives medical treatment UEFA via Getty Images

What are the main priorities for women’s football medicine?

There is a huge need for research. Of the research studies that have been done in football, the vast majority have been conducted among men, and not all are transferable to women. This year there was a specific focus on grant applications regarding women's football. For example, we already know that there is a different injury pattern. ACL ruptures are one example of an injury that is much more frequent in women. It is a potentially career-ending injury, so it is really important to address it properly. I expect we will make some surprising discoveries from research into women's football, with benefits for the men’s game too.

How is football medicine adapting to the challenge of climate change?

Take UEFA EURO 2024. It is possible that it will be quite hot, even in a country with a moderate climate such as Germany, so we need to prepare for that. We have seen heatwaves across Europe in recent years. We are working on having regulations in place to safeguard players and fans.

Read more about UEFA’s medical projects.

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