x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

From Saad tragedy, a safer sport

Authorities are calling for sports clubs to increase the medical care for players following the death of the former UAE international footballer Salem Saad.

Salem Saad, centre, in action during a friendly against the French team Lyon. Saad suffered a suspected heart attack last November during a training session with his club.
Salem Saad, centre, in action during a friendly against the French team Lyon. Saad suffered a suspected heart attack last November during a training session with his club.

DUBAI // Health and sports authorities are ordering professional sports clubs to beef up the medical care of their players following the death last year of the former UAE international footballer Salem Saad. The Dubai Health Authority and the Dubai Sports Council (DSC) yesterday announced they had formed a committee to improve medical care at sports clubs and tournaments with the aim of preventing similar fatalities.

Saad suffered a suspected heart attack last November during a training session with Al Nasr, his Dubai-based club. His death led to calls for improved health checks for players. "The death of this player was one of the tragic things that makes this so important," said Dr Ramadan Ibrahim, the DHA's director of health regulation and the chairman of the new committee. "The clubs are expanding, their player numbers are increasing and [things are] changing, so now we need to ... [know] what's happening", in the field of sports medicine.

He said Saad's death highlighted the importance of clubs having modern medical equipment and up-to-date emergency procedures in place at their training grounds and the stadiums where they host official matches. The first job of the Sports Medical Committee (SMC), comprised of experts from the DHA and DSC, will be to upgrade medical clinics already in place at all clubs that fall under the DSC's jurisdiction to ensure they have the necessary facilities and expertise in place to care for their players.

The committee will also examine what changes need to be made to current guidelines, and implement additional rules if necessary. All medical staff at the clubs will likely be required to register with local or federal health authorities if they have not already done so. While emergency protocols are already in place for official matches, the committee will probably consider establishing a similar system for training sessions, including having personnel qualified in cardiopulmonary resuscitation on hand. "Our specific areas of focus are training, awareness campaigns and emergency plans," Dr Ibrahim said.

The committee aims to improve the current system, not replace what already exists, said Qadhi Saeed al Murooshid, the DHA's director general. "We need to provide specialist services to clubs to protect our sportsmen and women, to make sure that all of the clinics are upgraded, that they are well equipped and well supervised," he said. Among its responsibilities, he said, would be ensuring the safety of players during tournaments, planning additional emergency protocols and checking the medical reports of players before competition to ensure they are fit enough to play.

It will also liaise with the ambulance services, hospitals and Dubai Police to ensure all are up-to-date with best practice. The DSC and the UAE Football Association (UAE FA) already have medical committees, members of which will also now work on the SMC. Among the committee's members is Dr Mourad Ghrairi, who is also a member of the UAE FA medical committee. Among Dr Ghrairi's responsibilities as an SMC member will be to keep up-to-date with the latest trends in sports medicine to evaluate whether they could benefit specific players or sports clubs in general.

No DHA hospitals have dedicated sports medicine departments, Dr Ibrahim noted. Athletes are treated by various trauma, physiotherapy and orthopaedic units that are able to treat most injuries. In cases where an athlete requires specialist treatment unavailable in the UAE, the committee will be consulted as to whether they should be sent abroad for it. "In all UAE FA clubs there is a medical unit with doctors, physiotherapists, trainers and massage therapists," said Dr Ghrairi. "It doesn't mean that there is nothing or people who are doing nothing. There is a system that has been working for a long time, but now we want to develop it."

loatway@thenational.ae