All Sport, No Play


On 20 October 2014, Peter Biaksangzuala, a footballer of India?s Mizoram Premier League celebrated scoring a goal for his team Bethlehem Vengthlang FC, against Chanmari West FC, in the style of German footballer Miroslav Klose by attempting a somersault. The 23 year old sportsperson mistimed his acrobatic attempt due to which he brutally landed on his head. This caused severe damage to his spinal cord. Despite being rushed to the Intensive Care Unit of Aizawl Civil Hospital and its doctors? efforts to heal him, he succumbed to his injuries five days later.

In an age in which sports are fast becoming a performance of skill, talent and efficiency rather than simply pure love for the game, market dynamics have been inextricably linked with them. The million dollar contracts that players sign with different sponsors and advertisement agencies reflect only one aspect of this changing arena. Due to these factors, sportspersons often indulge in predictable showmanship and efforts that many claim are choreographed by bookies. Despite these facts, certain sports continue to be viewed as lucrative career opportunities that provide a good income and significant popularity. As a result, many parents, especially in first world countries like the USA, motivate and sometimes pressurise their children to practice sports they demonstrate talent in so as to achieve sports scholarships for higher education, and first-rate careers after that. What the world forgets or conveniently ignores in these cases is the danger of sports related injuries which can lead to temporary as well as permanent effects on the sportspersons? health and well-being.

The most common sports related injuries which players across all age groups (beginning from 6 years) suffer from are concussions, fractures, sprains, strains, abrasions and contusions. Safe Kids Worldwide, a US based NGO, conducted a survey of emergency room visits for children?s injuries and found that more than million times a year/every 25 seconds, a young athlete has to visit a hospital emergency room for a sports injury. Kate Carr, Safe Kids President and CEO, says, ?Far too many kids are arriving in emergency rooms for injuries that are predictable and preventable.? David Epstein stresses on the role of parental interference in causing overuse injuries by pressurising child athletes to ?hyperspecialize? in a particular sport. In some cases, this also leads to burnout. In terms of gender differences observed in the statistical analysis conducted by Safe Kids Worldwide, sports medicine physician Kathryn Ackerman claims that conclusive proof has not been discovered till date, ?We are still looking into it, trying to see if there are really genetic differences, differences in play, or differences in biomechanics, but we don’t have that link yet.? Apart from parental pressure and gender differences, socio-economic factors are also predictive of sports-related injuries as they can be easily prevented with access to adequate healthcare, protective gear and equipment, careful coaching and guidance, proper infrastructure etc.

Moreover, greater competiveness and desire to achieve victory at all costs has denuded the oath of the Olympic Games which focuses on the ?true spirit of sportsmanship?. This has led to increase in aggression during play as tackles become blows and swipes become hits. Instead of playing the sport for its own sake, winning and associated benefits have assumed greater importance. This has also led to a spurt not only in sports injuries, but also in cases of illegal means used to win competitions, like doping.

Often, sports injuries like concussions can have long lasting effects. Researchers from the United Kingdom, United States and Sweden studied data from the entire Swedish population born between 1973 and 1982, i.e. about 1.1 million people to analyse the effect of traumatic brain injury during the first 25 years of life. Compared to those who had not suffered from any brain injury, those who had experienced it (about 9%) were likely to die early, have a psychiatric illness, or depend on disability pension due to a decline in the functioning of neurons. They were also less likely to complete secondary education.

Moreover, sportspersons may also lack awareness about sports injuries as a result of which the symptoms, treatment, and rehabilitation of their injuries form an unidentified public health issue. Epstein suggests that in case of prevention of sports injuries in children, they must be exposed to multiple sports rather than a single one during early years. A study on elite tennis players has revealed that playing numerous sports at least until the age of 14 leads to a ?harmonious club environment without greater demands for success,? for young sportspersons. Apart from this, appropriate warming up and cooling down exercises, following accurate techniques, using protective gear, and creating awareness about sports-related injuries can help to reduce their occurrence so that players like Biaksangzuala do not sacrifice their careers to fatal sports-related accidents.

-Contributed by Tript

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