Best feet forward for homeless socceroos

Best feet forward for homeless socceroos

27 Nov 2008

When the first match of the Melbourne 2008 Homeless World Cup kicks off in Federation Square on Monday December 1 there will be soaring spirits and great national pride - not least among the 900 + volunteers pitching in.

Yet a few of these volunteers fully expect to be overlooked. Like most invisible menders they know their job is done when outsiders can’t see their handiwork.

They’re the health care professionals who’ll look after the players’ feet, those under-valued appendages that kick, butt and dribble the ball wherever coaches want it to go, whatever their condition, whoever they go home with.

From now to Kick-Off and every waking hour of the day for the rest of the event there will be one small team of medicos on standby in a purpose-built medical facility at Federation Square dedicated to those feet – all 250 pairs of them from 56 competing nations.

Before, during and after each match these committed volunteers will mend, bend, stretch, strap, minister and pamper players’ feet in ways only podiatrists know how -  and send them fit and flexible back to the stadium to perform again.

They’ll see the game from a perspective most of us never think about –  tackles lost for want of an arch support, goals scored despite a bunion, goals missed for a plantar wart, tears shed for opportunities lost and won, often for as little as a hang nail.

“People don’t realise how instrumental podiatry is,” says Podiatrist Nikolaos Nikolopoulos, Clinical Coordinator of La Trobe University’s Department of Podiatry Clinic, and Podiatric Coordinator for the 2008 Homeless World Cup.

“This is FOOT-ball – but you’d be surprised how many people overlook that. There are a whole host of other needs to be taken care of, but none are more important than ours – feet. If your feet aren’t working well you’re not going anywhere in a hurry.”

Mr Nikolopoulous will coordinate a small but mobile team of seven podiatrists from La Trobe University throughout the event so that at least one and often two podiatrists will be on site at the Homeless World Cup Medical Centre.

Yes, he says, they will be ministering to wounded feet, corns, hangnails, bumps, scrapes and abrasions, tendon and muscle injuries and worse – after all the foot has 26 bones in it, takes up to three to four times the whole body’s weight, or more when someone is running, and in this event, won’t be treading grass.

“Even the simplest conditions can stop someone kicking a football, or even putting on a shoe, and these issues run across all populations so we’re expecting the gamut,” Mr Nikolopoulos says.

But podiatry, he says, is not just about feet, it’s also about the people the feet belong to, their health issues, their personal problems, their social status, their goals, and the contribution they make to the world – and he and his team will be there not only to minister but also to learn.

“We’re involved in this because we are health professionals providing community services, and we’re a teaching institution, and this is a huge community event we can learn from. It’s the individual players who are the core focus, 77 per cent of whom go on to make significant changes in their lives. That is humbling, and it’s very important for us to use our skills as health professionals to help them achieve that.

“We are continually emphasising the professional development of our students, who will go on after they graduate to make a continuing contribution to the community – partly through their academic skills and partly through their interpersonal skills.  Experiences like this are important for our academic staff and our professionals, to enhance and increase our own community development skills so we can bring that back to our students.

“This is what health care is about. Our students hook or by crook will learn about podiatry; what they won’t learn in the classroom is relevance and empathy, all the things that make a person a person.

“If your feet aren’t working well you can’t move. Movement is about socialisation, Socialisation is about psychology. What happens to a child or a person who is unable to become involved because he can’t move as others do?

“Social isolation doesn’t just come from the ravages of substance abuse or family breakups, there are a lot of health issues that also lead to that. We play a role in making sure these people are able to move.

“You know if you look at the cause of everyone’s problems, a lot of them have to do with acknowledgement and a sense of purpose. It’s an education process to get that across.

“So what are we doing here? We’re flying the flag for the Melbourne 2008 Homeless World Cup, but also for La Trobe – because ultimately, what’s our focus? The education of health professionals with a social conscience, that’s the important thing.”

Related links

Media contact

Nikolaos Nikolopoulos,
Clinical Coordinator,
La Trobe University Department of Podiatry Clinic
T: 03 9479 3364 M: 0402 909 537 E: n.nikolopoulos@latrobe.edu.au

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