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South African sport and exercise medicine: shaping health, fostering responsibility
  1. Phathokuhle Cele Zondi1,
  2. Jon S Patricios2,
  3. Sharief Hendricks3
  1. 1 Olympic Committee, Johannesburg, South Africa
  2. 2 Wits Sport and Health (WiSH), School of Clinical Medicine, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa
  3. 3 Human Biology, University of Cape Town, Division of Exercise and Sports Medicine, Cape Town, South Africa
  1. Correspondence to Dr Phathokuhle Cele Zondi, Olympic Committee, Johannesburg, South Africa; phathokuhlez{at}

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In its earlier years as a discipline, sport and exercise medicine (SEM) was perceived primarily as a specialty tailored for elite athletes. We now know that this initial perspective fails to capture the extensive benefits SEM can offer towards public health. This scope of practice may be even more relevant to lower-income countries where SEM interventions can play a key role in reducing disease burden and improving health outcomes in the general population. In March 2020, SEM gained formal approval as a medical specialty in South Africa, marking a significant milestone recognised with enthusiasm by sports medicine practitioners. Despite not yet being established as a formal specialty in many other low-income and middle- income countries (LMICs), SEM holds promise for advancing public health agendas and fostering social accountability.

This editorial explores the transformative potential of SEM in LMIC contexts. Specifically, we highlight the role of SEM in fostering community engagement, advocating for equitable access to healthcare and driving policy changes to prioritise health equity.

SEM in South Africa

The journey to establish SEM as a clinical specialty in South Africa began in 1990 with the first sports medicine postgraduate training programme at the University of Cape Town (UCT). Master’s degree programmes were subsequently introduced at four other tertiary institutions. Efforts intensified with the formation of a steering committee in 1997, engaging key regulatory bodies, the Colleges of Medicine of South Africa (CMSA) and the Health Professions …

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  • X @phatho_z, @jonpatricios, @Sharief_H

  • Contributors All authors were involved in the conception of this editorial. PCZ created the initial draft and collated the edits and revisions. JSP and SH expanded on the initial themes. All authors were involved in reviewing and approving the final manuscript prior to submission.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests PCZ and SH are associated editors and JSP is an editor of BJSM.

  • Provenance and peer review Commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Author note The author group is gender balanced and consists of mid-career and senior researchers from different disciplines; however, all members of the author group are from one country. Two authors are members of a marginalised community. The editorial specifically speaks to considerations in LMICs although application could be broader, specifically in countries in which SEM is still emerging as a speciality.