State of Sport: Fifa’s former doctor says painkiller use risks footballers’ health


Elite footballers’ “abuse” of legal painkillers risks their health and could “potentially” have life-threatening implications, says Fifa’s former chief medical officer.

About half of players competing at the past three World Cups routinely took non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen, claims Jiri Dvorak.

He says it is still an “alarming trend” among players, including teenagers.

“It has become a cultural issue, part of the game,” said Professor Dvorak.

“It is absolutely wrong,” added the Czech, who left Fifa in November after 22 years.

“For me it’s clearly abuse of the drugs – that’s why we use the word alarming.”

However, the Professional Footballers’ Association – the players’ union in England – said misuse of painkillers was “not a major issue” among its members.

BBC pundit and former England defender Danny Mills says painkillers in football have always been widespread – “and always will be”.

“I’ve been in many dressing rooms where I’ve seen other players pressured into playing with painkillers,” he said.

Players are pressured to use painkillers – Mills

He added players at the top level of the game did not see them as an issue because they were legal and often monitored by health professionals – but he felt some players lower down the league ladder might suffer problems without that safety net in place.

Professor Dvorak spoke to the BBC as part of State of Sport week, which on Thursday examines the balance of athlete welfare against a winning-at-all-costs culture in sport.

A government-commissioned review into safety and wellbeing in British sport, headed by 11-time Paralympic champion Baroness Grey-Thompson, is due to be published imminently.

Professor Dvorak collected data about the intake of medication by all players at every Fifa tournament between 1998 and 2014, discovering almost 50% took ‘everyday’ anti-inflammatory drugs and painkillers that are available over the counter.

He says some clubs prioritise success over player welfare, leading to players feeling “pressured” into taking medication to overcome minor injuries and play in important games.

Professor Dvorak previously raised these concerns when he was employed by Fifa, but claims the world governing body has still not addressed the issue appropriately.

Fifa says its stance on the issue has not changed since Dvorak first warned about the long-term implications of players misusing painkillers