Editorial

If only we had heeded Dr Fraser's warning...

Saturday, March 08, 2014    

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The tragic passing of St Jago High School student/athlete Mr Cavahn McKenzie has once again sparked calls for national athletes to be physically tested before taking to the field of play.

Since young Mr McKenzie collapsed and died at the end of a 6K event at the NACAC Cross-Country Championships in Tobago on February 22, at least one local governing sport body, the Jamaica Athletics Administrative Association (JAAA), through its president Dr Warren Blake, has declared that physical screening of national athletes will be made mandatory prior to competition as a matter of policy going forward.

But while we fully endorse such a policy, we can't help but wonder why it has taken so long for our administrators to act decisively.

For there have been more than adequate warning signs in the not-too-distant past.

In fact, Dr Carlton Fraser, a surgeon and doctor of integrative medicine who worked with a number of national teams, including football and netball, in an October 24, 2010 Sunday Observer story, called for compulsory physical examinations on athletes before being selected to national teams.

"We must deal with basic prerequisites before the athlete goes on the field... once we're not doing that, we're doing a gross injustice," Dr Fraser said at the time.

The popular doctor was pushing for a policy decision after five unexplained deaths associated with performance, which had occurred within a 12-month period.

The latest death at the time he spoke was that of a 12-year-old student from Excelsior High School, who had collapsed on the field during a schoolboy football game in September 2010.

Dr Fraser had cited two examples of his early and necessary intervention with athletes on national teams, which otherwise could have possibly been tragic.

On one occasion he examined 18 netballers and 16 were found to be anaemic, resulting in their immediate withdrawal from any strenuous activity until they were treated.

On another occasion he screened a young footballer who had played in the schoolboy season and found a heart condition, which eventually required surgery.

"If he hadn't had that surgery he would now be a statistical evidence of our own neglect. We have to do it. We cannot assume that because you see a footballer running around that he is all right," asserted Dr Fraser.

To date, the cause of death of Mr McKenzie is inconclusive, but while the JAAA plans to mandate such a policy, we are firm in our belief that all local sporting bodies should be made to do likewise.

And we believe that this is an opportune time for Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller, who has been deeply hurt by the youngster's passing, to expedite this transformation process and ensure that such a procedure is included in the National Sports Policy.

It is too late now for Mr McKenzie, but let's not wait until another tragedy visits us before we act. Our sporting legacy deserves no less.

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