Researchers Urge FINA & Feds To Get To The Heart of The Matter On Athlete Health

Sun Yang - by Patrick B. Kraemer

Should all who race in FINA competition carry a certificate confirming that they have passed a fitness test that has included cardiovascular investigation? A question worth asking in light of the following: Swimming and those governing the sport at international and national levels have failed to implement Olympic health and safety recommendations designed to recognise cardiovascular diseases that afflict leading athletes and ensure that no-one trains and competes at risk through lack of a medical-fitness test.

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Certainly, moves in this direction are both advisable, and in the longer term, essential but the reality is that even should there be the will to pursue; the roll-out would be some years in realisation.

Should said certification eventually cover a wide cross-section of medical issues …. certainly but in the short-medium term; cardio-vascular and respiratory should be the spearhead …. especially the latter which is the prime source of TUEs

The issues I see as needing to be addressed are:

– what will be the accepted level of certification ? From a duly accredited sports med practitioner PLUS a duly accredited specialist in the particular field (cardiologist/respiratory medicine) would be my view.

– the eternal bugbear of “who’s paying ?” Such checks are all part of “due diligence” these days for professional team sports but for Olympic sports where “trade teams” are nigh non-existent; where does the buck stop ? If one says the national federations; the counter-argument is that an ever-increasing majority face a constant existential battle to survive financially let alone asking the question of ability/competence to “police” said matters. The international body ? OK, but who will they be devolving the operational side of things to ?

Craig Lord

CW, I would imagine that sport would have to be looking at a similar model to that which exists in the better models of private healthcare. The role of FINA et al would be to change their rules and accept the good practice of at least writing into their rules that a medical test and fitness are prerequisites to competing. Precisely what those tests and measures would be is a matter for medical experts in consultation with sports medicine experts and folk from the anti-doping realm – but none of that is new to the world and many leading swim nations already have such things in place and well-established.
As for funding, there are many sources of potential funding, including obligatory contributions from the IOC and intl federations from that fat pot of IOC/broadcast and other revenue. As a child growing up in Portugal and a member of a swim club I was obliged (my parents were obliged on my behalf) to undergo a medical test. There was a small fee that helped pay for that service. There are a number of ways such things could be handled, through club fees, etc. There are also models the world of sport could look at, including cross-sport aid programs. Again, going back many decades, football clubs in Portugal, such as Benfica and Oporto, contributed funds to the other sports operating in facilities alongside them in multi-sport programs (they had handball, basketball, swimming and other teams under the banner of the football club name) … club members/fans could buy an ‘associate’ membership to the club and those funds went into a general pot that helped funds flow from the richer end of the sports pool (football) through to other sports that required subsidisation. There are, of course, many models in the USA (and some elsewhere) that tell us that swimming programs can not only be self-sustaining but thrive beyond that position.
Beyond all of that, the question this article poses is the simple principle of what responsibilities FINA and the like should accept in their very well-feathered world. If they are guardians of a world in which kids cover 50 to 100km in water a week, lift weights and do a great deal more than that in order to qualify for national and international competition, then a rule saying ‘no fitness test required’ is not, I would suggest, ideal. The Sun Yang case is cited because it is fundamental to the argument: who, beyond Sun’s doctors and his local coach and family, knew that he spent at least 7 years taking a substance to correct a heart condition while undertaking an extremely rigorous training regime? Was his Australian coach made aware? Who would have taken responsibility had Sun dropped dead in the water? FINA? Miami? Chinese Swimming? Well, as we know from the death of a 17-year-old of late on official training camp in China, the answer is: none of those federation entities took any responsibility nor did they provide any clarification nor explanation. The dots are deliberately left unjoined, it seems to me. As I say in the most mild manner I can muster: not ideal.

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