Tag Archives: sports

Football – When the Violence Is At Home

Balotelli reacts after an apparent foul in the Italy vs Spain match at Euro 2012

With the Euro 2012 soccer finals in progress, its quite understandable when episodes of violence, real or simulated, occur on the field, or even nearby( as the riots after the Russia-Poland game showed). But when this extends into the home, then its a cause of public concern.

Research by BBC News has found there was a surge in domestic violence reports to police during the 2010 World Cup.Police in England noted that reports of domestic violence increased by some 29% during games when England played in the recent 2010 World Cup.  The police expect a similar increase in domestic violence during the current Euro finals and have placed themselves on alert, apart from publicising awareness in the media and working together with related agencies like Domestic Violence UK.

Chris Hancox, from White Ribbon UK, which campaigns against violence to women, said: “If someone’s football team loses, that’s no reason to take it out on anyone, particularly the person they’re supposed to love.”  But the reality is quite the opposite:  arguments about the amount of television watched, alcohol intake, jealousy due to people spending more time with friends and an increase in money spent could lead to an increase in tensions.

Many would agree that alcohol by itself does not cause domestic violence, but could be the catalyst, especially when there is disinhibition after excessive alcohol and deeper emotions begin to surface.

So what does the Football Association (FA) has to say about it? It said it could not comment on what was not a footballing matter. Is that really a fair statement?

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Fasting, Fast Times and the Olympics

2012 Summer Olympics

Image via Wikipedia

The news that the 2012 London Olympics is going to be held entirely during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadhan in August next year poses  the question: does fasting affect sports performance?

In July 2012, it is estimated that more than 11,000 athletes will compete, of which about a quarter of whom will be Muslims who will be expected to undertake a dawn-to-dusk complete abstinence of all food and water. That means, at the height of summer, no food or drink from something like from 4.30am till 9.30pm daily.

In the 2012 Olympic long-distance races, contestants from East Africa,mainly Muslims, will compete during the fasting period.

Lets take a look at how fasting may affect sports performance. Broadly, it does so in the following ways:

1. Energy restriction – while it is generally held that the total calories will drop in a day, the food intake is very cultural and depends also on whether the diet is balanced. So it is possible to ingest more calories than one would normally do when not fasting with consequent weight gain. Experts are divided whether there is any curb on energy at all.

2.Hydration – dehydration of more than 2% of body weight will impair aerobic exercise performance, despite the attempt by the body to conserve water, as seen by one’s highly concentrated urine when fasting and the fact that one tends to sweat less when exercising.

3.Body temperature is governed by circadian rhythm of one’s body and explains why body temperature, muscular strength and reflexes become optimum in the late afternoon, at the peak of the circadian rhythm. When fasting, the alteration of sleep (sleep deprivation)and altered eating habits affect the circadian rhythm. This may cause a reduction in exercise performance.

4.Training load – while it is generally believed that fasting will affect training, largely by a perception of easy tiredness, professional coaches have established that, if diet, sleep, a balanced diet and hydration are maintained, athletes can undergo the same physical training load as those who are non-fasting.

Most authorities accept that athletes who maintain their energy intake and  prefasting hydration status and who get adequate sleep can maintain their training load during fasting without suffering any substantial impairment in performance. Of course, if the fasting is on religious grounds, this is a personal matter for the athlete to decide as to whether, in the first place, he should fast at all and defer the fasting period till after the race.

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An Unwanted Visitor to the Commonwealth Games

When New Delhi opens its doors to athletes at the Commonwealth Games October 3rd, it would have by then encountered innumerable problems leading to the Games.

While China impressed the world with an almost flawless Olympics, India’s has been dogged with inefficiencies and shoddiness. India’s preparations have been hampered by allegations of corruption, mismanagement and inadequate facilities which threaten whether the facilities will be completed in time at all.

Not least of all, the current impasse on the usage of Blackberry messenger in India will add to communication woes and possible chaos should Indian security agencies impose a ban.

Amidst this, an unwelcome visitor has started to make its presence felt – the dengue virus, the cause of dengue fever. Already, 937 cases have been reported in the last few weeks,  a figure which many consider a gross under-estimate due to a deficient reporting system.(Hospital figures estimate more than 2000 cases in what is described as the worse outbreak in 20 years). Part of the reason for this upsurge is the stagnant pools of water surfacing around the construction sites for the various Games venues.

The Aedes mosquito, which carries the Dengue virus, passes it on when it bites into a human.

The outbreak has already struck two top Indian cyclists and is beginning to instill fear among the arriving Commonwealth Games athletes who fear contracting this disease, especially the most severe form which can cause internal bleeding and death. This fear is heightened because dengue has no known cure or antidote, as are most diseases caused by viruses.

Also, the main fear among athletes is that contracting the disease, however mild, might  impair their chances in the forthcoming Asian Games in November, as well as the Olympics in 2012.

Meanwhile, authorities are scrambling to clear the construction sites of stagnant pools and improving the environment so that India’s aspirations of becoming a successful host remains intact.

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Fasting and the Olympics

2012 Summer Olympics

Image via Wikipedia

The news that the 2012 London Olympics is going to be held entirely during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadhan has begged the question: does fasting affect sports performance?

In July 2012, it is estimated that more than 11,000 athletes will compete, of which about a quarter of whom will be Muslims who will be expected to undertake a dawn-to-dusk complete abstinence of all food and water.

In the 2012 Olympic long-distance races, contestants from East Africa,mainly Muslims, will compete during the fasting period.

Lets take a look at how fasting may affect sports performance. Broadly, it does so in the following ways:

1. Energy restriction – while it is generally held that the total calories will drop in a day, the food intake is very cultural and depends also on whether the diet is balanced. So it is possible to ingest more calories than one would normally do when not fasting with consequent weight gain. Experts are divided whether there is any curb on energy at all.

2.Hydration – dehydration of more than 2% of body weight will impair aerobic exercise performance, despite the attempt by the body to conserve water, as seen by one’s highly concentrated urine when fasting and the fact that one tends to sweat less when exercising.

3.Body temperature is governed by circadian rhythm of one’s body and explains why body temperature, muscular strength and reflexes become optimum in the late afternoon, at the peak of the circadian rhythm. When fasting, the alteration of sleep (sleep deprivation)and altered eating habits affect the circadian rhythm. This may cause a reduction in exercise performance.

4.Training load – while it is generally believed that fasting will affect training, largely by a perception of easy tiredness, professional coaches have established that, if diet, sleep, a balanced diet and hydration are maintained, athletes can undergo the same physical training load as those who are non-fasting.

Most authorities accept that athletes who maintain their energy intake and  prefasting hydration status and who get adequate sleep can maintain their training load during fasting without suffering any substantial impairment in performance. Of course, if the fasting is on religious grounds, this is a personal matter for the athlete to decide as to whether, in the first place, he should fast at all and defer the fasting period till after the race.

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The Strange Case of the Woman Athlete Who Wasn’t

Amid the excitement of the World Cup Finals, another potentially earthbreaking news of another kind should, but did not, make the news. Remember the South African woman athlete who won the ladies’ 800 metres final at the World Athletics Championships in Berlin last August?  19 year-old Caster Semenya, then 18, secured victory in the 800m final in an impressive time of one minute 55.45 seconds, 2.45 seconds ahead of defending champion Janeth Jepkosgei.

South African Caster Semenya winning the 800m women final at Berlin, August 2009.

Her joy was short-lived as the IAAF, which had earlier asked her to undergo gender tests,  then ordered more tests, saying questions had been raised about her muscular physique, running style and recent stunning improvement in times. Last week, the IAAF backtracked and now has given the all-clear for the athlete to compete in all IAAF competitions as a woman. The IAAF added, “Please note that the medical details of the case remain confidential.”

Reliable sources have indicated that the athlete may have had AIS (androgen insensitivity syndrome), a type of biologic intersex condition. Intersex results from a deviation in the normal embryological development of the reproductive tract, often determined by a known genetic mutation. More senior doctors will also recall the older name for AIS – testicular feminization syndrome.

To understand this better,

The usual pattern of human foetal development is in 3 parts:

Either:

1) sex chromosomes = XY, leading to
2) gonads = testes, leading to
3) external genitalia = male

or:

1) sex chromosomes = XX, leading to
2) gonads = ovaries, leading to
3) external genitalia = female

So what happens in intersex?

Usually, such individuals will be either XY(male) or XX(female) with corresponding testes or ovaries respectively (1 and 2 above). The problem arises when there is a mismatch or distortion, with the external genitalia not manifesting the corresponding features (3 above). This means that you can, for example, have an XY individual with testes but with an external appearance that is essentially female (i.e. an XY female).

Queen Elizabeth 1

While the term AIS is rather new, this condition has been known for ages, with the suggestion that it could have afflicted Queen Elizabeth 1 (1533-1603) otherwise known as the “Virgin Queen”.

Whatever the case, sports bodies are now faced with a wider range of responsibilities, having now to contend not just with basic chromosomal studies in ‘doubtful’ cases and having to resort to more complicated testing procedures to determine their ‘true’ sex.

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Out of Africa

No, this is not another blog posting on the hardships of the French and English teams at football’s World Cup. While the teams were slogging it out, another battle was also in progress, albeit involving two men on the tennis court back in Wimbledon, UK.

6'9" John Isner (left) poses with Nicolas Mahut and the Umpire after the longest tennis match in history, which ended 24 June 2010 after 3 days.

After 11 hours and five minutes, 183 games, 980 points, 215 aces and 126 badly bruised tennis balls, John Isner of the US ended the longest, strangest, darnedest tennis match ever played, 6-4, 3-6, 6-7(7), 7-6(3), 70-68 over Nicolas Mahut. The result was achieved on the third day. Even the scoreboard malfunctioned when the score reached 50-50, the programmers probably thinking that no tennis match will ever get this far.

The interesting question here: how many calories did the players use up? Using FitDay’s Activity Calculator, the estimated calories used by John Isner would have been 7,960 calories while Nicolas Mahut burnt 6,250.

Put in another way, Isner used up the equivalent of 15 Big Macs or 20 plates of Oriental chicken-rice (whichever you prefer). That aside, health risks abound. The common ones like dehydration and potassium loss are easily overcome, as one can see by the frequent takes of electrolyte drinks and bananas. Not to mention muscle tears and tendon ruptures which can occur anytime, even among pros. Psychological stress plays a big role, as mind-games predominate; so tennis pros get well-prepared by undergoing emotional conditioning.

Said Isner after the marathon session, he had only 6 hours of sleep in between the days and had “no skin left on my toes”. Indeed, the damage is not over immediately after the game. It may take a week for the body to recover fully depending on the level of players’ peak physical conditioning.

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The 2010 World Cup – A Health Hazard for Spectators

Unlike previous years, spectators to the FIFA World Cup in South Africa face some unusual health hazards. I wrote earlier that possibly the biggest one of them all is the fact that one in five South Africans are HIV-positive.( see  ” The 2010 World Cup’s Biggest Threat” ). With half a million visitors, 40,000 call-girls and 42 million condoms donated by the former British government, initiatives to prevent the spread of AIDS seem to be hampered by FIFA’s refusal to have health prevention booths at the various venues.

Intending travellers to South Africa need not worry about malaria and yellow fever as these diseases are virtually unknown, unless you are at the Mozambique border. And heat stroke is not likely to be a major problem as the climate is relatively mild. South Africa is well south of the Equator and has a Mediterranean-type climate – in fact, June/July is in fact winter in the Southern hemisphere. This unfortunately is also the flu season, so its wise to get those shots before going there.

In fact, the infectious diseases to worry about will be food-poisoning, measles and tick-bites as reported by a survey of tourists between 1997 and 2009.

Table Mountain - muggings have been reported at this venue

Infectious diseases aside, a greater health hazard would be crime – its widely reported that South Africa has one of the world’s highest rates of mugging, rape and gang-rape. Machine guns can be bought for USD 100 and executions handled for less than USD1000. Tourists have been known to be mugged in shopping malls and on the slope of Table Mountain. The Australian Government even warns that the South African Police Service does not have “Tourist Police”. Criminals, however, have posed as “Tourist Police” to extort and rob tourists, including by stopping tourists buses to check proof of identity and search luggage.(see here)

The Vuvuzela Horn - louder than a air-horn or a referee's whistle

But perhaps the most annoying health threat will be the ubiquitous Vuvuzela horns, which at  127 decibels is louder than the air-horn (123 decibels) and the referee’s whistle (115 decibels). Prolonged noise at 85 decibels can cause permanent hearing impairment and soccer fans are urged to use ear-plugs and ear-muffs. Is FIFA going to ban these horns? Definitely no, as its part of local culture at football games..

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Schumacher – Racing Against The Ravages of Time

Arguably the best Formula One driver of all time,  he is described by the official web-site as “statistically the greatest driver the sport has ever seen”. And so when the seven-time World Champion Michael Schumacher retired in 2006, many proclaimed with finality that it marked the end of an illustrious career.

So, when he announced that he was making a comeback by signing a 3-year contract with Mercedes in 2009, the media, public and racing fraternity got palpably excited at the prospect of watching the maestro perform one more time, very much like a delayed encore after the superb performance.

But..four races into the season, Schumacher’s F1 return is looking more like a big anti-climax. Evidence seems to be accumulating that he is no longer the formidable driver he once was. To quote the Associated Press, it is beginning dangerously to look like the vain folly of a middle-aged man who got bored in retirement and who missed racing’s adrenaline buzz but who also made the mistake of kidding himself that he still has that old magic.”

Schumacher - at 41, the tell-tale wrinkles around the eyes are evidence of middle-age creeping in

In the four races so far, he finished in the points only in the first race at Bahrain, finishing 7th. After that, in Australia he did 10th, finished unclassified in Malaysia and ending up 10th again in China. And to add insult to injury, his team-mate, Nico Rosberg, 17 years his junior, driving an identical car, has ended up on the podium twice already. This surely is clear-cut evidence of Schumacher’s decline. Further evidence:  in China, while his team-mate Rosberg stayed throughout on dry tyres, Schumacher had his tyres changed twice to suit the weather (indecision?) and was about to do it again when his engineers radioed him to remind that Rosberg had not even changed tyres to suit the weather.

Now, at 41, Schumacher may have to realise that Father Time waits for no man. Body reflexes get slower, muscles get more easily fatigued and the adrenaline ‘high’ may not produce the same boost as in a younger man. This is the reason why participants in other sports retire early – a good example being swimming, when the power-body mass ratio reaches its peak in the mid-twenties.

Added to this are the responsibilities of family life and parenthood. With 2 children (13 and 11 years old), the appetite for risks must be waning as well. Schumacher’s sure touch of the wheel, controlled love of risk and steady nerves once made him so hard to beat. Now, he looks quite ordinary. Said Louis Hamilton, when asked how it felt to have overtaken the world champion recently in China, he matter-of-factly replied “It’s just as exciting as racing with any other driver” .

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Canadian Celebrations Create Controversy

The Canadian women’s ice hockey team won the gold medal at the Vancouver Winter Olympics when they beat the US 2-0 yesterday. Well done! But few expected the whole team to re-enter the rink some 30 minutes later for a victory party that featured champagne, beer…and cigars!

The victory celebrations prompted the IOC president to launch an enquiry  soon after, but officials do not expect any official censure. After all, these were a group of youngsters toiling hard for 4 years to reach the pinnacle of success and they had to let off steam.

But many felt that the party was going overboard. OK, even the Formula One drivers indulge in champagne on the victors’ podium. But cigars? Its an undisputed fact that these are the harbingers of many lethal diseases! What kind of message are these athletes sending out to the youngsters? Some observers felt that it was ok to party once they have changed out of their team jerseys and doing it away from the glare of the media. But youthful enthusiasm knows no barriers. However, the team did issue an apology much later.

After all, who could blame them for their attention-seeking behaviour when the IOC President had earlier threatened  that if womens’ hockey did not improve and become more attractive, it would be axed at the next Games?

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The Greenest Olympics Ever..Well, Almost!

The 2010 Winter Olympics, now being held in Vancouver, Canada promises to be the most eco-friendly Olympics ever held. Take a look at some of the measures undertaken during its preparation:

  • free public transport to all its venues, in an effort to reduce the carbon footprint.
  • all new buildings, including the athlete’s village has been built to meet top green standards for energy and water.
  • the Media Center has a living roof of 400,000 native plants that capture and reuse rainwater. It also has seawater heating and cooling and an on-site water treatment plant.
  • The athletes’ village will be turned into a mixed-used sustainable community of stores, housing, daycare and community center after the games. You can see a slide show of the village’s green features here.

Green: 2010 Winter Olympic medals are made from recycled electronic parts

The Vancouver Olympic Oval -its roof is from wood salvaged after pine-beetle infestation

However, despite the organiser’s noble intentions, they did not contend with Mother Nature itself. The unusually warm and rainy weather at one of its venues, Cypress Hills (for skateboarding and freestyle skiing) has resulted in insufficient snow, causing the organisers to bring truckloads of imported snow from British Columbia as well as using helicopters to dump snow at the affected site.

Truckloads of Snow Imported into Vancouver from British Columbia

Cypress Hills, a main venue, literally green as a result of scant snow.

Despite its eco-efforts, some environmentalists  wonder whether this will be the greenest Olympics ever,  given the carbon-emitting truck-and plane-loads of snow that had to be carried in to skiing and snowboarding venues. Don’t blame Vancouver – the Winter Olympics isn’t exactly that without enough snow,after all!

Postscript

Its tragic when young athletes who participate for their passion in sport end up losing their lives. As a doctor, the tragedy takes on an added dimension as, accident or not, a life has been lost, despite valiant prompt action by the medical staff. On 12th February, Georgian Olympian Nodar Kumarittashivi died during luge practice after suffering from head injury. Our condolences to his family. ABC News has a video of the incident here.


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