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Building a EU alliance for sports injuries documentation and prevention
  1. M Belehri,
  2. E Petridou
  1. Center for Research and Prevention of Injuries among the Young (CEREPRI), Department of Hygiene and Epidemiology, Athens University Medical School, Athens, Greece

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    Official partners in the project were colleagues representing Institutions from five EU member states (Austria, France, Germany, Italy, and Greece) and Israel, with additional input from the Netherlands, Denmark, USA, UK, and the European Commission.

    The first goal of the project team was to reach a unanimous definition for sports injuries. No definition is perfect, but the criteria for the one used in this project were simplicity, easiness in use, and reliability. Subsequently, each participating institution was asked to exploit existing data sources, elicit information and draft a national report, on the basis of data describing the magnitude and the dimensions of the sports injury problem. It was evident that the burden of sports injuries and their sequelae, especially among elite athletes who frequently make use of private health care services, was not well captured by EHLASS; thus, this database had to be complemented—to a various extent, depending on the country information from other sources. To this end, a large variety of sources were searched, including national health surveys, the national statistical service departments, insurance companies files, archives of sports and youth organizations, medical records kept by private sports physicians and physiotherapists, antidoping centers' releases and lastly, athletic newspapers' clips.

    Time exposure data by type of sporting activity were rarely available, but information on the range of sports most frequently practised in each country was made available by most participating countries and formed the basis for the compilation of an inventory describing the most popular sports in the EU.

    People living in EU countries are characterized by cultural diversity, different degrees of practising the diverse sporting activities, whereas the respective member states provide infrastructure of variable quality and have different levels of sports injury prevention philosophy. This 18 month duration of the first phase of the project comprised a fertile soil for the development of an interactive process among the participating organizations. Moreover, multiple opportunities were given to the project participants to link their common interests and activities, to discuss concerns and emerging issues during prescheduled meetings with national coordinators, and to use informal communication channels in order to share common concerns about sports injuries prevention and control. Each member state was urged to contact as many national bodies as possible, out of those involved in sports activities and concerned with sporting safety. Countries, lacking formal registration systems—especially with regards to professional sports injuries—athletes, sports physicians, physiotherapists and coaches, administrators in athletic and youth organizations, reporters on athletics, sports and health academics contributed valuable quantitative and qualitative information and personal views about the development of pertinent sports injury prevention strategies.

    A global report was thus compiled on the basis of published and unpublished information provided by national experts, that included results of data analysis on sports injuries in individual member states and figures describing injury probabilities due to practising specific sports activities. Apart from EHLASS data, however, most other sources did not yield comparable data. Thus, despite its inadequacies EHLASS remains at the EU level the sole surveillance system that can be used for proportional comparisons among member states. Data from international bodies were also gathered showing increased doping detection proportions during major athletic competitions.

    In order to satisfy the expressed need for development of priority policies for sports injury prevention and control across the EU, a set of indicators was developed and approved by the participating EU member states and Israel. These indices could be used to determine with reasonable accuracy, the overall dimensions of the problem and could be made available to political leaders and health authorities, which are interested in addressing relevant issues. Injuries during sporting activities seem to represent a sizeable proportion of all injuries, especially among the younger population groups. Overuse injuries as well as the impact of performance enhancing substances on the injury rate needs to be further studied in the EU member states and pertinent methodologies to address this sensitive issue need to be developed and implemented. Lastly, long term sequelae of sports' injuries cannot be assessed through the established data collection systems and only few investigations have been undertaken with this respect.

    In conclusion, the context of this EU project provided a unique opportunity for scientists of the participating member states to join forces, exchange experiences aiming to produce policy recommendations for sports injury prevention and control in this part of the world. More specifically, during the first phase of this project an attempt was made to bring to light the fragmented but diverse EU experience on assessing the magnitude of sports injuries. Identification of risk factors and evaluation of currently used prevention measures have been planned for the second phase of the project, which has already been started. Recommendations to international injury classification committees and standardization bodies or consumer safety organizations are to be made, whereas effective interventions in the European scene and around the world are to be monitored and examples of good practice are hoped to be presented.

    An Executive Summary of the report is available on request. We are interested to receive ideas and experiences from other parts of the world. Communications for this Sports Safety Alliance should be directed to Eleni Petridou, Project Manager, Director, CEREPRI at epetrid{at}

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