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Player receiving treatment from a physiotherapist

Football must do more to ensure that players’ medical rights are protected

Professional footballers’ fundamental rights to medical confidentiality are routinely ignored across the English professional leagues according to a piece of Loughborough University research.

The study, recently published in the International Review for the Sociology of Sport, has shown that pressure from a coach or manager is commonplace in English football, leading to breaches in medical confidentiality and suggests that more widespread training in matters of medical ethics in sport are needed across the professional game.

Loughborough academic, Dr Dominic Malcolm, undertook interviews with football club doctors and physiotherapists as part of a follow-up to a Professional Footballers Association (PFA) sponsored survey conducted in 1999. The findings showed that despite earlier attempts to bolster codes of ethical practice in sports medicine, breaches of ethical codes routinely occur.

Interviewees spoke of the poor design of medical facilities, which made maintaining privacy difficult; dubious contractual arrangements which cajoled players into waiving their right to confidentiality; and the pressures they experienced from coaches and managers not only to release all the information given to them in confidence, but sometimes to actively seek out information in the interests of their employers.

Alongside more widespread training around medical ethics the study suggests that the PFA should act to raise footballers’ awareness of their rights as patients, and for players’ agents to actively resist the imposition of contractual clauses which breach players’ fundamental rights.

Ultimately, however, the study highlights that the situation will only be remedied through a cultural change.  To this end the FA and League Managers’ Association are urged to develop training programmes educating coaches and managers about the rights of players to medical confidentiality. The sport should also seek to make the roles of club doctor and physiotherapist more independent so that healthcare providers are freer to act in the interests of their player as patient, and not in the interests of the clubs as employers.

On the researches findings Dr Dominic Malcolm commented:

“It’s not enough just to re-publicise the ethical codes or blame a few bad apples. These issues are endemic to sports medicine and require a fundamental re-think of what passes for ‘normal’ in professional team sport.

“Breaches in medical confidentiality can seriously undermine a player’s career prospects and future earnings. But medical ethics also serve a greater good. If players can’t trust their doctors and physiotherapists to act in their best interests, they may withhold information, which may delay their treatment, and so hold back the team’s performance.”

Notes for editors

Press release reference number: PR 17/174

Loughborough University is equipped with a live in-house broadcast unit via the Globelynx network. To arrange an interview with one of our experts please contact the press office on 01509 223491. Bookings can be made online via www.globelynx.com

Loughborough is one of the country’s leading universities, with an international reputation for research that matters, excellence in teaching, strong links with industry, and unrivalled achievement in sport and its underpinning academic disciplines.

It has been awarded five stars in the independent QS Stars university rating scheme, named the best university in the world to study sports-related subjects in the 2017 QS World University Rankings and top in the country for its student experience in the 2016 THE Student Experience Survey.

Loughborough is in the top 10 of every national league table, being ranked 6th in the Guardian University League Table 2018, 7th in the Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2018 and 10th in The UK Complete University Guide 2018. It was also named Sports University of the Year by The Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2017.

Loughborough is consistently ranked in the top twenty of UK universities in the Times Higher Education’s ‘table of tables’ and is in the top 10 in England for research intensity. In recognition of its contribution to the sector, Loughborough has been awarded seven Queen's Anniversary Prizes.

The Loughborough University London campus is based on the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and offers postgraduate and executive-level education, as well as research and enterprise opportunities. It is home to influential thought leaders, pioneering researchers and creative innovators who provide students with the highest quality of teaching and the very latest in modern thinking.

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