Soccer and medicine have taken Santa Monica-based Dr. Bert Mandelbaum all over the world. His latest stop is sunny Río De Janeiro, Brazil (although in Río it’s winter) the site of the 2016 Summer Olympic Games.
As the FIFA (Federation Nacional de Football) medical officer overseeing the medical matters for the men’s and women’s Olympic soccer tournament, Mandelbaum’s duties include oversight for prevention protocols, team preparation and injuries, including concussions and doping control.
An orthopedic surgeon at the Santa Monica Orthopedic and Sports Medicine Group in Santa Monica, Mandelbaum was the chief doctor for the 2014 World Cup, also held in Brazil.
The doctor says this year’s Olympic and prior World Cup experience has also enriched his approach to medicine in his own practice. “My role in international sports competition has given me a large breath of experience and respect for the safety and health of all athletes. With each experience it fortifies my desire to optimize all levels of care,” he said from Río during the final week of the Olympics.
“Our focus is to be athlete and patient-centric at all times, always leading through prevention, optimizing performance and preventing and treating injury or illness. To work in the world's largest stage for athletics I am always reminded of the most important concept that is one world and one medical team,” the doctor continued. “Utilizing these concepts within our group is very essential for athletic medicine practice at all levels from the youth, Special Olympics, and to the elite and professional.”
Mandelbaum and those who were fortunate to be part of this year’s Olympic Games have been witness to several record-breaking feats as well as another international first— but this one was as much of a humanitarian story as it was a sports story.
At an Aug. 10 United Nations Assn. of the USA event in Century City, United Nations Secretary General Ban KI-moon noted that the International Olympic Committee allowed a team of refugees to compete for the first time in the history of the Games.
“They all received a standing ovation at the opening ceremonies,” said Ki-moon, who was in Río or the first few days of the Olympic Games. Whether they earn medals or not, they are already winners,” Ki-Moon said.
In additional, a record 43 gay and lesbian athletes competed with their straight counterparts.
Although it was a major concern since its outbreak in Brazil in April last year, the Zika virus apparently did not overshadow the Games, as some suspected it might.
“Zika was a concern for all medical personnel, [World Health Organization and Center for Disease Control and Prevention] officials. It is certainly a public health concern with new cases in many countries including the recent ones in Florida,” Mandelbaum noted. “ Here in Brazil there are always concerns for contracting dengue, yellow fever, Chikungunya as well as Zika that are transmitted by mosquitos. Our medical vigilance is focused on eradication, spread of disease to women in the midst of child bearing, prevention and education.
“We are fortunate that it was winter here in Río so it [has been} 68F degrees and windy and not mosquito season,” he added. “The IOC education program is extensive with mosquito spray and condoms being provided to all of the athletes.
”Mandelbaum thinks other medical professionals can learn something from their colleagues who have been involved international activities.
“My international experiences have given a deeper understanding and appreciation of world sports competition. I truly have realized that the sport of life in the life of sport or interlinked. These games are a gift and continue to teach us that is about taking part and not the win, the process over the outcome, and the journey over the destination,” he said. “Once again, we learn the importance of competing, collaborating and serving this tremendous event on the world stage.
When the final chapter of the Summer Olympics in Río is written as the sun sets on the international competition until 2020, Mandelbaum thinks it will be more than just the Zika virus, green water and the world records that were shattered.
“The main legacy of these Olympic Games will be the proud culture and passion of the Brazilian people. They are kind, giving, supportive, and proud of their country. I have immense gratitude in spite of significant political economic challenges for the organizers and volunteers that have pushed on to make these very successful games,” he concluded. “In fact, I say this is a great prescription for humanity, at a time where we are confronted with violence, terrorism and political unrest, we are comforted by these Olympic Games.
“We learn once again basic Olympic credos, which are the gift to our human world at this time.”