TOI Goes Abroad To Azerbaijan

Edward J Sambey Serves as Team Physician in FIFA World Cup


You could say that Edward J. Sambey, M.D., has a deep-rooted passion for soccer dating back to his high school days as an all-star player, to competing into his collegiate years at University Soccer in Canada, and later being selected for a professional soccer team in the Major Indoor Soccer League - all before deciding to attend medical school.

Following medical school, he resumed playing competitive soccer in the Canadian First Division and Premiership, played for the 1993 Canadian National Championship team, played for Canada at the World Medical Games in France; silver medalist, was nominated to the CISM Canadian National Soccer Team in 1993, 1994 and 1995, and played in several international ‘friendly’ games.

Add to that, after 15 years of retirement from soccer due to an injury in 1995, he began playing again and is currently the Men’s Over 30 3v3 National Soccer Champions. He is set to compete at the World Championship in January 2013.

And he’s not stopping there.

From September 22nd to October 13th, Dr. Sambey served as the Team Physician for the Women’s Canadian Team at the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup 2012 in Azerbaijan.

As a sports medicine physician, this was quite an honor, so I was excited about the opportunity, Dr. Sambey said. It is a rare opportunity and one that most physicians don’t get.

As a Diplomat of the Canadian Academy of Sports Medicine, Dr. Sambey received correspondence about sports medicine opportunities in the 2012 FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup. After completing the selective application process, Dr. Sambey felt privileged when selected as Team Physician for the Canadian team at the 2012 Cup.

After a lengthy flight across the Atlantic and a 9 hour time difference, Dr. Sambey and the Canadian team arrived in the Azerbaijan capital of Baku, the official host site of the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup.

The overall vibe of the area was one of excitement, intensity and commitment, Dr. Sambey said.

“It was on one hand, exciting to be in a part of the world that I had never been. It was a combination of the ancient ruins dating back to the 11th century and a lot of new wealth and architecture interspersed with the traditional,” he said. “From a team perspective, I was impressed with the professionalism and organization of the staff. From coaching and performance, it was beyond anything I had ever seen.”

As Team Physician, his duties included keeping a 24/7 clinic where the team of 21 players and staff of the Women’s Canadian Team could go to him with any orthopaedic or other medical issues.

“All 21 World Cup Team Players had full athletic scholarships to play soccer at top flight universities here in the United States and obviously have very rich futures, both in terms of collegiate and selections for further international play including at the Senior National World Cup and Olympic levels, and quite possibly professional careers,” Dr. Sambey said. “From my medical teams perspective, it was of extreme importance to ensure the health, both at the tournament and ongoing, of these young athletes.”

A typical day included an early team breakfast followed by a team meeting, where each and every aspect of the staff, including Dr. Sambey’s medical team, would give updates in addition to the schedule for the day and the upcoming game. Next, a team lunch usually followed by a workout was in order accompanied by more meetings. In the early evenings the team would travel to the various stadiums for one to two hour training sessions. At the end of the day, a team dinner was provided and followed by more meetings.

“Interspersed through all of this for me was addressing the individual medical problems of the players and staff. I had two athletic therapists who were very good at taking care of the strains and sprains,” Dr. Sambey said.

Fortunately for the Canadian team there were no major injuries sustained throughout the competition.

We had a fairly significant scalp laceration against China and a cheek-to-cheek injury in practice with one of the girls sustaining a concussion prior to the North Korea game, but really beyond this, it was the usual musculoskeletal strains, low-grade sprains and so on, Dr. Sambey said.

Overall, the Canadian team did very well throughout the competition. They were undefeated in Group A, beating both Azerbaijan and Columbia, 1-0, and tying Nigeria, 1-1, who were the African Champions and one of the co-favors to win the entire World Cup.

“Unfortunately in the knock-out stage, we met North Korea who was another of the co-favorites, and lost a very hard-fought game, 2-1,” Dr. Sambey said.

When asked what he enjoyed most about the overall experience Dr. Sambey said, “Both as a physician and a lifelong soccer player, I think it was the thrill of being involved with the World Cup. I was also absolutely blown away by the quality of play. These 17-year-old ladies were remarkable soccer players and even more than that, great people.”