The study will track the mental wellbeing of all of the players, along with the functioning of their brain, heart and muscles, during their career and in the first years after they leave the game.
FIFPRO Chief Medical Officer Dr. Vincent Gouttebarge, who is leading the research, gives an update on the project which is co-funded by the Drake Foundation (England), healthcare company Mehiläinen (Finland) and Push Sports (The Netherlands).
How is the research going so far?
We have made a good start, with about 150 players who have completed online surveys about mental health, joint pain, concussions and injuries. They have completed tests to analyze their cognitive functions, and have undergone a medical exam to measure blood pressure and heart capacities via electrocardiogram. Most included players are very motivated about their health and lifestyle, they want to be closely involved. By being part of this research, they are getting a lot of free advice and educational material.
Where are the players from?
Among other countries, they play in the men’s Premier League and Women’s Super League in England as well as championships in Finland, France and The Netherlands. The players are aged from 24 to 30. Once the COVID-19 pandemics allows, they will also undergo X-rays of their hips, knees and ankles to measure cartilage damage. The project involves considerable time and effort but should provide valuable outcomes not only to the players involved but also football doctors and future generations of players.
How are you handling the workload?
I found myself contacting players from many countries throughout 2020, sometimes early in the morning when it’s still dark here in Amsterdam. There is a lot of coordination work involved but it’s important to build up a personal relationship with players and keep them well informed and encourage them to stay committed to the research.
What do you expect to be some the key findings?
For example, we could find more evidence of the link between concussions and the functioning of the brain and, for women footballers, the link between menstruation and injuries. But really there are many different findings that might come out of the research. We plan to attract PhD students to dig into the data and provide reports for the players. They already have some good feedback about cognitive function.
Has the pandemic delayed the project?
Yes to some extent. We had to suspend activities for some months last year after the outbreak of the pandemic but we resumed last summer and we are continuing more or less as planned. We have arranged medical exams for players at clubs and at private clinics: we don’t want players being tested at hospitals that are under pressure during the pandemic.
Can players still join?
Yes. There are still a few weeks window for some more players to join. Many players are in the ‘here and now’ and don’t want to think five or 10 years ahead but we would encourage them to be conscious of their long-term health.
Enrolment of players began last year after a project kick-off at Arsenal’s Emirates stadium in London with doctors from clubs including Real Madrid, the English and Dutch football associations and Queens Park Rangers.
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