Minds laced up for the World Cup of football science

World leaders in football research to discuss the impact the game has on health

If you notice an increase of foreign tongues discussing football on the city’s streets and canal tour boats this week, there’s a very good reason. And no, Copenhagen isn’t due to host the Euros for another five years.

Hundreds of researchers are descending on Copenhagen this week to take part in football’s holy grail of science, the 2015 World Congress on Science and Football (WCSF15).

Held every four years, like the World Cup, it’s the first time that the congress is being hosted by a Nordic country. Organised by the University of Copenhagen (KU) and held at DGI Byen, over 500 researchers, coaches and leaders from 46 nations will be here to listen as Jiri Dvorak, the head of FIFA’s research organisation F-MARC, presents the international footballing governing body’s perspectives on one of the key themes of the congress: ‘Football for Health’.

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Football: it’s a science
“These are the world leading professors in their field of science in football,” Søren Bennike, a researcher at the Department of Nutrition, Exercise and Sports at KU who is a member of the local organising committee for WCSF15, told the Weekly Post.

“What’s unique is that it is an interdisciplinary congress, so you have the physiology, anatomy and bio mechanics, but you also have the social science and humanities like sociology and psychology. Here everyone has an interest in one thing, and that’s football. The main thing will be soccer, but there is also rugby, Australian football, American football and Gaelic football.”

Better than the gym
A central theme for the congress will be football for health. Football has been found to be a very healthy overall activity – more beneficial, for example, than going to the fitness centre or going for a run.

Football reduces the blood pressure to the equivalent of a successful treatment of blood pressure medicine, while it also increases muscle mass and strengthens bones. Just 12 weeks of football increases fitness figures by 10-15 percent and reduces the risk of heart disease by up to 50 percent.

Research has found that the exercise also significantly improves the health, health knowledge and learning ability of children.

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Danish trailblazers
And it’s not a coincidence that Copenhagen has been chosen to host the eighth edition of the WCSF, according to Bennike.

“Denmark has two leading football science professors in Jens Bangsbo and Peter Krustrup, and I would say that these are the two who brought this conference to Copenhagen. They are world-leading scientists in football research,” said Bennike.

Between 2001-2004, Bangsbo was an assistant coach at Italian giant Juventus where he was responsible for the technical, tactical and physical training. He has also been part of the Danish national team as a physical coach during major tournaments.

‘Football Fitness’
The pair have just published a scientific article on the health benefits of football in one of the world’s leading sports medical journals, the British Journal of Sports Medicine. Another reason is the Danish-developed concept ‘Football Fitness’. It’s football without playing league games, so just playing football for fun and fitness.

“Our research shows that the new Danish fitness concept ‘Football Fitness’ is an effective way to prevent and treat lifestyle illness with inactive adults and we are ready to take part in a global spread of the concept,” said Peter Krustrup.

Football Fitness has already attracted thousands of women to Danish football clubs. Just recently, the Faroese Football Association revealed that its numbers have shot up by 175 percent in just four weeks. And at a time when more and more people are going to fitness centres, the researchers expect that the concept will take off in the future as a healthier and more fun alternative. The critical aspect is football’s versatily.

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Versatile dynamic
“It’s because of all the different movements in football: lots of explosive movements and changes of pace, stopping and starting, running backwards, jumping and its very interval-running orientated. Moreover, Football Fitness tones down the competitive aspect, emphasising flexibility and addressing a new type of player – the one who might not go to the gym or who miss a flexible format in football. I think it could become very popular in the future,” Bennike said.

The congress will bring little fanfare and magic to Copenhagen this week, but the findings and discussions of the best football science minds in the world could prove to be even more important than any World Cup or European Championship ever could. Even more than Euro 92.

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