Football fans know all about groins, and their tendency to strain. They’re also well-versed in hamstrings, anterior cruciate ligaments, Achilles’ tendons and, as of 2002, and thanks to David Beckham, metatarsals – that bone in the foot, hitherto unknown to the general public until old Golden Balls cracked it.
This is the language of football medicine.
By caring an unreasonable amount about their favourite teams and players, football fans absorb the detail of a variety of extremely specific medical scenarios.
Conservative estimates suggest that upwards of 90% of football fans, if pushed, probably could not carry out a minor procedure at the operating table, but they know someone (usually a man, for some reason) who could.
It’s usually some specialist in America, or Germany, earning minor celebrity by patching up footballers.
“Yeah, he’s done his ACL,” a fan might say of the midfield dynamo at the heart of their team, “they’ll send him off to America to see that Richard Steadman fella next week…he’ll be out for 6-8 months, minimum.”
No doubt it’s reassuring to the player involved when they read this stuff on Twitter. After all, it can be so hard to get medical professionals to commit to diagnostic timescales with such confidence.
And football is only the most high profile example of such public consultation.
British cyclist Chris Froome, as you’ll be aware, has for several months been embroiled in a tangled web of medical administration* around his use of salbutamol to treat asthma. But only a few days before the start of the Tour de France of 2018 we learn that the UCI (the sport’s governing body) have accepted the explanation and wranglings of his highly paid lawyers, and dropped their case against him.
He’s free to race on.
In the clear.Embed from Getty Images
Eyebrows have politely been raised on Twitter about the timing of all this**, but we can all agree there is at least one positive (ahem…) to come out of it.
From a public health perspective our collective awareness of asthma has significantly increased. The cycling media have spent months cramming furiously on the subject and presenting their findings to us in exchange for our money.
We cycling fans now have a working knowledge of exercise induced asthma and a pretty good understanding of the effects of salbutamol. We’ve also picked up a bit about how the human kidney works and have heard of, and can probably spell, tricky words like metabolites.
We even have such a deep understanding of the composition of Chris Froome’s urine that, if we close our eyes, we can almost taste it.
I’m not saying we would pass our medical exams, necessarily, but we have enough of the terminology to happily moonlight as an unqualified rogue GP in a remote country parish.
Were I to find a cyclist slumped roadside and gasping for breath my new found knowledge would swing in to action. I would pause their Garmin, extract some urine for a quick test, and once satisfied that it would not produce adverse analytical findings I would administer a salbutamol infused kiss-of-life by means of a puffer.***
The cyclist can breathe again.
Their urine falls within acceptable standards of clarity.
Job’s a good ‘un.
Unfortunately, in a sporting sense, with Froome now in the clear nothing much changes. Those who decided he was a cheat cry foul and still think he’s a cheat. Those who thought he was innocent are vindicated and give it the full “Go Froomey!” on social media. Bernard Hinault has to have a sit down to reconsider his position.
And I fall back on my “Grey Areas” defence and wonder how anyone can ever be sure about anything ever.
*It’s my new euphemism for “doping scandal”. It’s more in keeping with the increasing complexity of drugs in sport.
**Total shit-storm, obvs!
***Sir Dave Brailsford, the boss of Team Sky, insists on calling an inhaler a “puffer”. Something about such an alpha-male using this childlike language amuses me. It’s as if Sky decided it sound more innocent than “inhaler”, and thus increased Froome’s chances of avoiding sanction. Et voila!
(Image: By Jaguar MENA [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons)