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Protection of the elite athlete is the responsibility of all of us in sports medicine
  1. Lars Engebretsen 1 , 2,
  2. Kathrin Steffen 1 , 2
  1. 1 Medical & Scientific Department, International Olympic Committee, Lausanne, Switzerland
  2. 2 Oslo Sports Trauma Research Center, Norwegian School of Sport Sciences, Oslo, Norway
  1. Correspondence to Dr Kathrin Steffen, Oslo Sports Trauma Research Center, Norwegian School of Sport Sciences, Oslo 806, Norway; kathrin.steffen{at}

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In your hand, you hold the present themed issue of the British Journal of Sports Medicine Injury Prevention and Health Protection (BJSM IPHP), presenting work initiated and executed by the International Federations (IF) and the National Olympic Committees (NOC), on protecting the elite athletes health. For those of you who have not heard about these special issues of BJSM, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) is supporting four issues annually, as part of its commitment to supporting the health and performance of athletes.

Since the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, the IOC Medical Commission has carried out continuous surveillance of injuries and illnesses of the participating athletes during Olympic and Youth Olympic Games.1–5 At the same time, it is also evident that increasingly more IFs and National Olympic Committees (NOCs) have put health protection high on their agendas.

Led by FIFA (International Football Federation), with more than 25 years of experience in developing sports medicine and contributing to the health of footballers, other influential international sport organisations such as FIS (International Skiing Federation), FINA (International Swimming Federation), IAAF (International Association of Athletics Federations) and FIVB (International Volleyball Federation), have put increasing effort into collecting and publishing data on the injury and illness risk among elite and amateur athletes. What do these studies add? Do their findings have implications for the athlete? We definitely think so!

Systematic injury and illness surveillance monitoring over long periods of time, and the identification of high-risk sports, including the most common and severe injuries and illnesses, is a starting point from which to address preventive measures. The IOC and IFs are continually on the lookout to balance the excitement of a sport with the risk that is inevitable in these events.

As one out of several examples, FIS is to be commended for its proactive commitment to sports injury prevention. In 2006, the FIS Injury Surveillance System was established in partnership with the Oslo Sports Trauma Research Center.6 This comprehensive registry forms the basis for ongoing and long-term injury prevention research, allowing the federation to, for instance, evaluate the implementation of rule or equipment changes.

As this issue shows us, many other federations are now following this path. The International Fencing Federation (FIE) is another great example that should be acknowledged for their initiative to systematically approach injury prevention, following all four steps of the van Mechelen-model; from problem identification on to risk factor and mechanism investigations, leading to the suggestion of preventive measures ( see page 1138 ).7 As well as all this, you will find impressive work from IFs, such as on rugby-7 (new on the Olympic programme in Rio 2016) and articles on handball, boxing, volleyball, climbing and athletics.

However, while IFs such as FIFA, FIS, IAAF, FINA and FIVB have made considerable resources available for research teams, other federations need to rely on persistent commitment of their internal resources or on researchers with access to grants from universities, national research institutes, etc. The present publications, from a large variety of IFs and on a wide range of sports, show us that it is possible to obtain results with limited resources; however, research funds are needed for the development of solutions to mitigate health risks. Otherwise, the effect of venue and equipment modifications, training facilities and forms and rule changes, would never be evaluated with the sound methodology required for research.

So far, the IOC has provided certain funds through Olympic Solidarity to support research activities dedicated to the prevention of athletes’ health. Also, through establishing IOC Research Centers of Excellence, the IOC has appointed nine Research Centers worldwide, which will provide us with research activities to protect the health of Olympic athletes, and which apply to all athlete groups.

There are ongoing discussions in the IOC and the Amateur International Boxing Association (AIBA), the international sporting federation that has the governance and medical oversight of all Olympic and international competitions, on the risk of concussion when boxing, and whether or not helmet use protects the athlete from head injuries. Data, funded through IOC research grants and presented in this issue, support the opinion that current AIBA head guards can play an important role in reducing the risk of concussion and superficial injury in boxing competition and training ( see page 1108 ).8

However, the time has come for NOCs and IFs to engage and invest funds in sports medicine research to address the individual IF’s/NOC’s needs. It is time to introduce competitive grants to attract the best researchers to secure the best protection for our athletes. Many IFs do now have well-functioning Medical Commissions. It would be beneficial if the Medical Commissions were also represented on the federation boards. The presence of the Medical Commissions would emphasise the importance of Sports Medicine for the athletes and would show the intention of the federations to prioritise work in this field.

Enjoy this edition of BJSM IPHP; it will provide you with great examples of IF work within the Olympic movement. Towards the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, we intend to publish another edition highlighting the role of sports medicine and science for the best preparation of our athletes.

BJSM is now ranked second best of all sports medicine journals worldwide with an impact factor of 5.0, also thanks to the four annual special issues supported by the IOC. Remember to keep an eye out for the three other IPHP issues (January, April, June and September) and you can find the issue-by-issue archive of all IPHP issues (since 2009) at: Follow us in BJSM and read about the exciting work from the IFs on our way to Rio!


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  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; internally peer reviewed.