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Strict Refs and Good Prep Made for Fewer World Cup Injuries

Tim Brockmeier (kjb)July 13, 2006

The FIFA medical commission has good news: This year's World Cup saw a dramatic decline in injuries and not a single doping case. Still, sports doctors are looking to curb Kung Fu moves and fakers.

Team doctors were called out 156 times in the World CupImage: picture-alliance / dpa

Not only was the 2006 World Cup healthy for business in Germany, it also proved healthy for the participants, reported the official sports doctors. With 736 professional soccer players fighting tooth and nail through 64 games for the title, somebody is bound to get hurt.

Jiri Dvorak, head of FIFA's medical department, said there was on average only 2.2 injuries per game this year. That is considerably fewer than in the 2002 World Cup, where the average was 2.7 injuries per game. For Dvorak, it's "an encouraging decline."

Everything's on tape

"After every game we count up all the injuries that occurred. We get it in writing from the doctors and afterward we watch the tape to see everything that led up to the injury. Then we make a scientific assessment of it," Dvorak said.

Even minor abrasions and bruises were recorded. In the 2006 World Cup, only one fourth of the total injuries were severe enough that the affected player missed one or more games.

WM 2006 - Fußball Fussball WM06 USA - Tschechien Spielszene Jan Koller verletzt sich im Spiel und muss ausgewechselt werden
There was an average of 2.2 injuries per gameImage: AP

Less than half as many head injuries

At the 2002 World Cup in Japan and Korea, elbowing resulted in 25 head injuries, said Dvorak. Concerted efforts were made to reduce the number this year.

"FIFA specifically instructed the referee committee and the referees to penalize incidences of elbowing," Dvorak said.

FIFA's chief doctor said he believes the referees' strict approach contributed to a reduction in head injuries. Only 11 occurred in 2006, less than half the number of head injuries in 2002.

Dvorak attributes the decline in injuries not only to referees but also to more advanced training methods. The better a team is physically prepared for the championship, the smaller the chances are that the players will sustain injuries.

It was for good reason that the FIFA insisted on a total of six game-free weeks prior to the World Cup.

Kung Fu on the field

Despite the positive injury statistics, the FIFA medical committee has a few recommendations for future soccer events, especially concerning injury simulations that break the flow of play. Team doctors were called to the field 156 times in this World Cup, but only 88 of these cases constituted a real injury.

WM 2006 - Korea - Togo - Rote Karte
The refs' dedication to fair play leads to fewer injuriesImage: AP

Dvorak also said he discovered a new kind of foul this year: "We certainly have to get a handle on the Kung Fu moves."

The medical committee plans to recommend harsher consequences for players who stick out their leg in the direction of another player's upper body.

In contrast to other sporting events...

The positive -- or rather, negative -- results of routine doping tests before and during the World Cup rounded out the FIFA medical report.

"About 16 players from each team were tested at a time. I think we can confidently say that there is no evidence of systematic doping in soccer," Dvorak said.

That makes the 2006 World Cup the third in a row without a single case of doping.