The only Fifa-accredited medical centre on the continent specialising in health care for football players is at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg.
Wits University’s Centre for Exercise Science and Sports Medicine is one of only six medical centres in the world that has won the approval of the world’s football governing body. The other such centres are based in Switzerland, USA, Japan, New Zealand and Germany.
All Fifa Medical Centres of Excellence have been carefully selected, based on a comprehensive application process that proves their clinical, educational and research expertise.
Some of the requirements by Fifa was that centres such as these be multidisciplinary and have significant experience in the management and care of football teams during training and competition as well as responsibility for the overall health care of football players. The centre was previously accredited by the South African Football Association as a Football Centre of Specialisation, assisting with the assessment of young football players.
Education and research
Regarding research, the centre is conducting research into sport medicine on a continuous basis to ensure they keep abreast of sport medical trends as well as set their own.
“We are an educational institution so naturally we pay a lot of attention to advancing the sport through education,” says Dmitri Constantinou, director of the facility. “For example, Fifa requires that all doping control officers also be registered medical doctors so a Fifa-accredited course will take place soon for our local doctors. In fact, until the 2010 Soccer World Cup there will be several courses taking place here that deal with the medical aspects of the sport.”
The centre comprises rehabilitation rooms which are fitted with the necessary equipment to treat injuries, ample facilities for relaxation like swimming pool and squash courts, wheelchair access, and the expertise of dieticians, professors and medical doctors.
If a player requires a surgical procedure, he will be referred to the university’s private academic hospital – the Donald Gordon Medical Centre or alternately to any Medi-Clinic Hospital.
Several rooms in the student residence on the premises have also been reserved to accommodate players overnight or longer if needed.
In a letter addressed to the director of the facility, Fifa President Sepp Blatter said, “We are very pleased to recommend your institution to the football community as an elite centre with a history of commitment to football and the respective expertise when specialised services are required.”
Constantinou says the accreditation is valid for the next five years but until that time it opens many doors for the facility to continue their research and build a name as a world-class sports medicine facility.