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Chara Dionysiou: "As a player, I shouldn’t have to provide medical assistance to others on the pitch"

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When Chara Dionysiou saw that one of her team-mates and an opponent clashed heads, she immediately acted. Being a professional nurse, the 23-year-old player of Cypriot club AEZ Chrysomilia attended to both women. Dionysiou is of the opinion that providing medical assistance is not the task of a player, a view shared by the Cypriot professional football players association (PASP) and FIFPRO.

By Chara Dionysiou

In our match against Aris, I saw that my team-mate Evangelia Papachristodoulou and an opposing player Maria Savva both challenged for a header – and then collided with their heads. Before they hit the ground, I could already see blood. It was something spontaneous to run and help, but it's what I do in life: help people. And it doesn't matter if Maria was playing on the opposing team.  

I am an operating room nurse at the German Oncology Center in Limassol. Without a second thought, I had to stop the bleeding. I cleaned the wound with water and then started putting pressure on their wounds until the bleeding stopped. I then applied a clean gauze and wrapped the wound with a bandage.

For Evangelia, it was easy. Maria, though, had a very serious deep wound; I have never seen anything like it before during a match. I was worried for a moment, as there wasn't enough gauze in the first aid box on the pitch, but luckily the medical staff of both teams had more. It took me three to five minutes to help her.

The match doctor was next to me as I gave first aid. I know that a coach and physiotherapists also knew about providing first aid, but I have the most experience due to my profession. I was anxious until the bleeding stopped. My mind was not on the game, but on when the ambulance would arrive at the stadium.

There was also some confusion and it took some time before they called an ambulance. While I was treating the wounds, I overheard the conversations and shouted to them to call for one immediately. Fortunately, the big state hospital in Limassol is close to the stadium. But it took the ambulance at least 15 minutes to arrive.

Maria Savva Cyprus
Maria Savva after being treated in hospital
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Chara Dionysiou (centre) received recognition for her quick thinking in helping Evangelia Papachristodoulou (left) and Maria Savva (right)
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Evangelia Papachristodoulou (left) and Maria Savva (right)

I know it is difficult to have an ambulance at every stadium of every sport. But if it is mandatory for the men's First Division, it should also be mandatory in the women's First Division. I think it is unacceptable to start a match without the presence of an ambulance.

Serious incidents, such as a cardiac arrest, do not distinguish between age, gender and stadiums. What do we do if we have to deal with an emergency? Do we drive the player to the hospital? If games in the men's First Division don't start without an ambulance present, then why doesn't the same happen in the women's First Division?

Another solution would be to have a relevant protocol for dealing with such incidents. For example, before each match, the nearest medical centre should be designated and a person in charge should contact it so that there is a clear plan and an easy procedure for the arrival of the ambulance at the stadium.

People should only be allowed to register as match doctors if they are trained and have experience in treating injuries. Currently, there are physicians who, for example, only have experience examining people in an office.

I also think that from each team’s staff, a couple of people should be trained to offer support during such incidents. Our player union, for instance, provides 50-100 players each year with free training to obtain a first aid diploma. Maria was one of the players who had passed this training and had a first aid diploma. This helped me a lot when I was treating her, as she understood what was going on.

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Chara Dionysiou

Women’s football and medical assistance

Surveys by both the Cypriot player union and FIFPRO Europe show that there are no uniform regulations defining the presence of an ambulance or other forms of medical assistance in professional women’s football.

The number of countries where it is mandatory to have an ambulance present during matches in women’s top leagues is almost equal to the number of countries where this presence is not mandatory. Some countries only demand to have a doctor or first aid kit present at the venue, while others, for example in Scotland, state that an ambulance is only required at matches with an expected crowd of at least 5,000 spectators.

“We need to have the right protocols and provisions in place so that expert medical help is readily available for the players should any type of need or emergency arise. At the very least, this must be available at all professional women’s football matches,” said Sarah Gregorius, FIFPRO Director Global Policy & Strategic Relations Women’s Football.