Samoa attends FIFA medical conference

By Professor Asiata Dr. Satupaitea Viali 11 February 2024, 8:00AM

Professor Asiata Dr Satupaitea Viali, Vice Chancellor for the Oceania University of Medicine, was selected to represent the Football Federation of Samoa at the FIFA (Federation International Football Association) Medical Conference in Boston USA.

This is the first time that FIFA has brought together medical talent from all 211 FIFA Member Associations and the six confederations, to facilitate knowledge exchange, experiences and best practices that will undoubtedly elevate medical standards in football worldwide. The objective is to facilitate the development and implementation of high-quality scientific evidence and empower FIFA’s member associations to improve player health in football.

Unfortunately, Dr Mayday Fanueli, another representative from Samoa, could not get her USA Visa on time to attend this important medical conference. As Prof Satu played football in high school at Samoa College, New Zealand Samoa representative teams, Vaimoso and Kiwi FC Team, he was the best medical expert to represent the Football Federation from Samoa, as he had been a football player for a long time.

The conference discussed normal screening of players to make sure they have optimal health, what screening procedures are necessary to exclude significant physical health and mental health issues, and how we deal with sudden cardiac arrest that could potentially be deadly on the field and off the field. Samoa discussed some of the heart issues that players from the Pacific face.

As heart health was a significant part of the conference, Samoa contributed the medical knowledge of the types of heart diseases that are common in young people playing soccer in Samoa, as Prof Satu is a cardiologist.

Cardiac arrest that is significant in other countries does not appear to have occurred in Samoa on the football field, the heart rhythm issues that seem to manifest in players occur in Europe but not Samoa. Rheumatic heart diseases are common in the Pacific and not in Europe, and therefore, all the players must be screened with an Echo machine.

Brain injury and concussion were well discussed needing a lot of research to understand the frequency, management, and long-term sequelae. Female players seem to have a lot more concussions than men. The physical injuries like anterior cruciate ligament injuries and their prevention and rehabilitation were well discussed. Mental health issues were given many sessions, as FIFA recognized the importance of player mental wellbeing.

FIFA has developed a mental health screening protocol to address these issues. Many sessions discussed the female player, the menstrual cycle, and the hormone effects on performance and injuries, and how medical teams could help. Despite soccer being around the world for a long time, many of the medical questions about issues to maintain player optimal health for maximum output, have not been done. One of the challenges posed at the FIFA Medical Conference is to research to answer many questions about football.

The European and American countries have better organised medical teams taking care of the players, consisting of sports physicians and doctors, orthopedic surgeons, physiotherapists, sports scientists, etc, as they have the resources. For Samoa, if we have all the resources in the world, the medical team will need 4-5 doctors, 1-2 physiotherapists, 1-2 nurses, ambulance officers, Red Cross officers, and others to run the medical team for footbal. If Samoa is serious about the elevation of its football team to international status to beat New Zealand, Fiji, Vanuatu and Solomons, etc, we must have a collective approach for the next 10 years, to address many issues that will produce fit, healthy, passionate, and well-trained players, to go all the way to the World Cup.

The medical team is only part of this forward plan to achieve greatness. Nothing is impossible to those who have faith in our God. As Martin Luther Jr said, “I have a dream…to end racism”, Football Samoa could equally say “we have a dream to be in the world cup within 10 years’ time”, looks impossible, but, God is our helper and enabler.

By Professor Asiata Dr. Satupaitea Viali 11 February 2024, 8:00AM
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