Diary blog – Journey to Monaco: A Scholar’s Reflection

Author: Dr Bakare Ummukulthoum (PT), Inaugural 3-B Scholar 2024, Associate Editor, BJSM, @koolboulevard on X and Instagram

Saint John, Newbrunswick

Canada

As I prepared to board my flight en-route for the 7th International Olympic Committee (IOC) World Conference on Prevention of Injury and Illness in Sport held in Monaco from February 29th  to March 2nd, 2024, I found myself reflecting on the remarkable journey that had led me to this moment. It was a journey filled with challenges, uncertainties, and ultimately, triumphs. My connection to the IOC World Conferences ran deep, stretching back to 2011 when I attended my first one in Monaco. Since then, I have witnessed its evolution and growth, becoming an integral part of the global sports medicine community. Each edition brought new experiences, learnings, and connections that enriched my professional and personal life.

However, this edition held a special significance for me. It was a culmination of numerous full-circle moments and a testament to perseverance in the face of adversity. You see, I almost did not make it to the conference. The financial burden of student loans as a recently self-funded PhD graduate from one of Africa’s top Universities, The University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg South Africa and given my recent relocation to the Great White North as a new immigrant attending seemed insurmountable, but fate had other plans. With the generous support of the 3-B (BASEM-BOSEM-BJSM) scholar development award, along with the unwavering encouragement of friends and family, I found myself on a plane bound for Monaco. The award not only eased the financial strain but also reaffirmed my belief in the power of community and solidarity within the sports medicine field.

Monaco: Pre-conference 

Arriving in Monaco, I was greeted by a whirlwind of activities and engagements which kicked off from 27th to the 28th of February, 2024. From pre-conference meetings with international federations to BJSM editorial board gatherings, the days leading up to the main event were filled with scholarship discussions and expert groups deliberating about the latest information and plans for the Paris 2024 Games. The BJSM Editorial team’s vision led by Editor-in-Chief Prof Jon Drezner discussed the vision for the journal and invited collaborative shared experience sessions to inform the path forward to achieving the set goals. I was given the opportunity to speak on how to improve the experience of associate editors. I shared some ideas that could help the constituency better achieve success and expectations. I had not actually had the opportunity to attend a face-face meeting of the editorial board since my appointment in 2020. It was yet another rare opportunity to connect face-to-face with colleagues and mentors whom I had previously only known through virtual channels. 

Conference day 1

The conference itself is a beehive of activities and was a beacon of knowledge and innovation as it has always been. The keynote addresses on equity, diversity, and inclusion set the tone for discussions that delved into the latest research and developments in sport and exercise medicine. Breakout sessions covered a wide array of topics, from injury prevention to athlete well-being, underscoring the shared commitment to enhancing the health and performance of athletes worldwide. There were a lot of early career researchers there to showcase their research and engage in robust discussions. This took me back to the 2014 edition which was exactly 10 years prior when I had a poster accepted for presentation at the conference, and in the present day I am honoured to be sitting amongst my mentors as a member of faculty.

 

Conference day 2

Key highlight of the conference for me was being part of the team that facilitated a symposium titled “Quo Vadis-where are you going 11+?” led by Dr. Mario Bizzini, from Switzerland. I and other colleagues from around the globe gathered to discuss the FIFA 11+ program’s journey in the last 18 years. Dr Bizzini’s  work with F-MARC at the inception of the program alongside Holly Silvers-Granelli from the United States, and others in the expert group, birthed the story of the FIFA 11+. On the panel we also had Matt Whalan from Australia who has done extensive work over the years in adapting the program for Perform+ and Wesam Al-Attar from Saudi Arabia who has evaluated the effectiveness of the program across its different adaptations for kids, referees, and goalkeepers. Our session had a truly global representation across all continents. As I presented my research on women’s football in South Africa, inspired by Torbjørn Soligard’s pioneering work on implementing the program in 2008, I could not help but feel a sense of pride in contributing to a cause that transcended borders and cultures and a shared common goal for the care of players.

Conference day 3

Another memorable moment came when I had the opportunity to chair a session alongside a beloved colleague Cheri Blauwet – a sports medicine physician, a former Paralympic champion, and all-round incredible human. I met Cheri for the first time at the Advanced Team Physician Course in Cape Town in 2017. It was a humbling experience to facilitate discussions alongside her and other passionate researchers in the field, exchanging ideas and insights that would shape the future of sports medicine. Amidst the professional engagements, there were also moments of camaraderie and celebration. From the welcoming event to the sports medicine celebration night, the conference provided ample opportunities to forge new friendships and strengthen existing bonds. It was a reminder of the supportive community that had propelled me forward in my career. I met the other two recipients of the Inaugural 3-B scholar award: Carole Akinyi (Kenya) and Laila Ušacka (Turkey), as well as connecting with BJSM Publisher Jennifer Thomas and BASEM’s Membership team’s Emily Cappleman who were all very receptive and warm. It was also interesting to also connect with Generation Next and the face behind the BJSM twitter/X handle Alex Ross. We swapped stories and a shared common vision.

 

Reflections

As I reflected on my journey, I could not help but feel a profound sense of gratitude towards those who had paved the way for me. Mentors like Professor Karim Khan, Professor Roald Bahr, and Dr Mario Bizzini have been instrumental in guiding my path and opening doors to new opportunities. Their belief in my potential had fuelled my ambition and shaped my trajectory in the field of sports medicine. Looking ahead, I felt a renewed sense of purpose and determination. The next IOC World Conference might be 3 years away, but my commitment to supporting the IOC Medical Commission’s vision remains unwavering. As I continue my work with my national Olympic Committee, I am driven by a desire to provide optimal healthcare and support for athletes around the world.

In closing, I want to express my heartfelt gratitude to the British Journal of Sports Medicine and the 3-B scholar award for their invaluable support. Without their assistance, none of this would have been possible. To my mentors,mentees, colleagues, and friends—particularly Suzzane Gard, thank you for believing in me and accompanying me on this incredible journey. Together, we will continue to push the boundaries of sport and exercise medicine and create a healthier, more inclusive world for athletes everywhere.



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