Medics call for better care of retired players

A GROUP of prominent football medics are urging clubs to provide players with an Exit Health Examination when they retire.

The report - co-authored by Dr Sean Carmody, Dr Chris Jones, Dr Vincent Gouttebarge, Dr Aneil Malhotra and Dr Imtiaz Ahmad, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine - highlights the health problems professional players face after retirement:

  • Increased risk of early-onset osteoarthritis and premature joint-replacements due to injuries during their careers.
  • Presence of osteoarthritis associated with poorer health-related quality of life.
  • Up to 39% of retired players reported symptoms related to depression and anxiety during a 12-month period.
  • Detraining and poor lifestyle choices (including reduction in physical activity, increased alcohol intake, poor nutrition choices and even smoking) can lead to increased risk of coronary artery disease.

Carmody, the Academy doctor at QPR, and Ahmad, the club's Head of Medical, already collate a player’s medical and injury history (including cardiac screening, blood results and imaging) and transfer it to their registered primary care physician.

The duo told TGG: “In recent times, we have recognised the need to do better for players who leave the club either through retirement, being released or moving to another club.

“In order to mitigate the risk of such issues, we have concluded that there is a need for an Exit Health Examination at the point of retirement to improve health outcomes for retired professional footballers.

“These efforts should not be the remit of clubs alone - all stakeholders (players’ unions, governing bodies etc) have a duty of care to ensure the long-term health of footballers is protected and promoted.”

They added that players who are released as scholars can be particularly vulnerable. "They may experience symptoms related to their mental health and have greater difficulty accessing medical care compared to established professionals."

Gouttebarge, the Chief Medical Officer of FIFPro, said clubs needed to change a "short-term approach" that leads to retired players being neglected.

“We are not living in an ideal world, especially in professional football," he said.

"At present the clubs do everything to enhance the performance of the players during their contracted years, but do not feel any responsibility about the long-term perspective, about what happens to them after they have retired.

“Governing bodies organise competitions and their main mission is not a duty of care for players, but mainly to organise a set of rules for a competition.

“Clubs must be aware that as employers that they have a duty of care to their employees, not only during their careers but after retirement. I would urge clubs to collaborate with federations and players’ unions to manage player transitions out of professional football.

“This is why FIFPro has developed the After Career Consultation, aiming to ease the period of transitioning out of professional football.”

Report authors:

  • Dr Sean Carmody: GP Specialist Trainee, Academy Doctor at QPR and Team Doctor to the London Senior Gaelic Football team.
  • Dr Chris Jones: First-team doctor at Charlton Athletic.
  • Dr Vincent Gouttebarge: Chief Medical Officer of FIFPro.
  • Dr Aneil Malhotra: One of the lead clinicians on the FA Cardiac Screening Programme.
  • Dr Imtiaz Ahmad: Head of Medical Services at QPR.

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