The playing of football on concrete or asphalt surfaces can cause long-term injury

Dear Editor,
I note that the highly promoted ‘Guinness Greatest in the Streets’ football competition is on in earnest. At the very outset I wish to applaud Banks DIH for their effort to engage communities through sport. Sport for development is now a global phenomenon and involves the use of sport to promote, among other things, health, economic gains, unity, character and peace. No doubt, good talents will emerge from these competitions. I fear though, that these talents may not be useful in the near future.

Apart from the traumatic injuries that are likely, the playing of football on surfaces made of concrete or asphalt may over time incur other injuries. Accumulative or chronic injuries are indicated here. The fact is, playing or practising football on hard surfaces invariably leads to bone and joint injuries that occur surreptitiously – over time. By the time they are diagnosed, treatment is difficult or the damage is irreparable. The question could be asked of other sports played on hard surfaces. There are differences. Firstly, football is a contact sport characterized by hard running, jumping and falling. As such, contact will influence the magnitude and control of these physical manoeuvres. Basketball and tennis are non-contact sports and thus greater control and pacing of movements are evident.

Secondly, sports like basketball are played on specially prepared surfaces that are designed to ‘give’ upon contact. Their resilience offers considerably more protection for bones and joints. Thirdly, special supportive shoes are worn by basketball and tennis players which also aid in the protection of joints. From my observations, no special attention is given to footwear in organized ‘street football.’

There are other concerns too. Playing on hard surfaces interferes with the learning and reinforcement of techniques in tackling, kicking and other critical skills of football. Certain types of tackle are impossible to learn on hard surfaces! I recall several years ago, in one Caribbean country, there were consistent complaints of ankle, shin, knee and hip pain, particularly from national netball and basketball players who played and trained daily on the concrete courts of the national stadium. The Sports Medicine Association recommended the laying down of special all-weather rubberized flooring. This was done and the aforementioned complaints were reduced significantly.

The argument may be presented that a culture of ‘street football’ already existed in the inner cities and communities long before Banks and Guinness conceived of the idea to ‘organize’ the trend. That is true. It must be realized however that it is the absence of adequate and safe playing areas and facilities that has led to youths taking to the streets for play and recreation in the first place. The practice may remain evident within communities for a long time to come, but the creation of organized competitions centred on asphalted surfaces is a different matter.

In Brazil, Futsal is a highly organized and professional ‘small goal football’ event. Widely supported by the private sector, it is played in covered arenas that seat hundreds of persons. The rules of the games demand that the pitch is made of wood or other suitable non-abrasive artificial turf. It states categorically that concrete or tarmac should be avoided.

Banks DIH and Guinness have a great opportunity and the resources to make a lasting contribution to community development. Rather than the construction of a concrete football pitch as incentives for the triumphant teams, a better approach would be the development of basic covered indoor facilities with proper flooring and seating arrangements.  Such a facility could be erected within the community and made capable of generating income and providing jobs. Through useful collaborations, teams could be invited from neighbouring Brazil and other Caribbean territories to participate in major tournaments. The promotional and branding opportunities for the company would be phenomenal.

This approach will not only help to develop talent, but position the country to partake of the burgeoning and profitable global sport tourism industry. At the very least, the bones and joints of many of our talented youth will be preserved and thus ensure their usefulness to the nation and perhaps other clubs across the globe.

Yours faithfully,
(Name and address provided)

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