x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Shunning health checks could prove fatal for UAE athletes

A study shows that only 15 percent of competitive sportsmen go for cardiovascular screenings recommended by the government, and some have been found unfit for sports.

SHARJAH // Despite government recommendations that all competitive athletes undergo screening for cardiovascular disease, a study suggests only 15 per cent do so.

The survey by the UAE Sports Medicine Committee was conducted on a cross-section of 230 national team athletes between the ages of 14-35 from sports including football, swimming, cycling, handball and basketball. Athletes were asked to provide a medical history and undergo a physical exam with emphasis on the cardiovascular system.

Dr Abdul Hameed Al Attar, the chairman of the committee, said only 42 of the athletes had been screened previously, while seven were found not fit to compete.

“Among these was a top UAE swimmer whom no one expected could have been at any physical risk,” he said. “The sport’s authorities took some convincing that he should stop and miss out on some important events. After he was treated for two weeks, he was able to bounce back into the sport.”

Two other athletes were found to have cardiovascular disorders that could have proved fatal had they continued to compete.

The results were made public at Aspire4Sport, a recent annual regional sports congress in Doha.

While there is no data on how many athletes have died while participating in sport in the UAE and the Gulf, Dr Al Attar said the study highlighted the risks athletes were taking if they failed to be screened before participating.

He said the UAE had devised a screening procedure based on European standards and used by some sporting bodies. In professional football clubs, doctors are required to screen all players.

The role of the medical committee, however, is to guide these doctors on carrying out the screening process. The screenings are unpopular and some local footballers say they have not taken the tests.

Even after screening, an athlete can still encounter problems.

“This is why ... we are also urging each club to have a comprehensive medical emergency plan that can save the life of their sportsmen once they have a problem on the field,” said Dr Al Attar. “The sudden death of any competing sportsperson is a tragedy with great impact on the whole community.”

ykakande@thenational.ae