Big sporting events need new standards, first aid group says

The creation of local guidelines would cover areas like the required number of paramedics in relation to participants, as well as the necessary services to be offered on site, says Red Cross Malta

Red Cross Malta has called for the creation of local standards and guidelines to cover big sporting events held in Malta. 

The group told MaltaToday that the country didn’t have any locally formulated standards pertaining to medical coverage and response at sports events, such as the recent Malta Marathon, but that medical organisations followed British standards in most cases.

The last marathon was marred by an unfortunate fatality when a 55-year-old Briton man died a few metres from the finishing line, a thankfully rare occurrence.

“So far these standards have been adequately effective, but having guidelines based specifically on local necessities would always help, particularly in view of the fact that interest in such events is on the rise,” the Red Cross’s Robert Brincau said. 

As Malta Marathon director Joe Micallef told this newspaper, this year’s event had attracted some 3,820 runners, compared to 2015’s 3,517 participants. The creation of local guidelines to cover areas like the required number of paramedics in relation to participants, as well as the necessary services to be offered on site, would seem like something of a logical step to ensure conformity year after year, regardless of how well other standards might work. 

A number of runners who participated in the event held on Sunday, 28February expressed concern about the length of time it took medical services to assist some of the runners who fainted in the crowd at the end of their run, and others added that the distance allowed for them to cool down after the finish line, was too short, making stops too abrupt and therefore conducive to collapses due to over exhaustion. 

In response to these complaints, Micallef said that every effort had been made to secure the best medical coverage throughout the event.

“Anyone fainting after the race or anywhere close to the finish line received immediate treatment as there are doctors, paramedics, ambulances, a treatment centre and even a clinic stationed at the finish, given that this is where there are most casualties,” he said.

He added that the route and the finish were covered by nine ambulances, a people transporter, an advanced medical post/control centre, a treatment centre, a mobile clinic, four bicycles, a quadbike, a motorbike, a Land Rover, six doctors as well as 56 paramedics and first-aiders from St John’s Ambulance and Red Cross Malta.

“There were also close to 300 police, wardens, security personnel and marshals along the route, all of whom were given the emergency number of the Red Cross or the St John Ambulance to contact them if they saw anything of concern.”

Micallef explained however, that the problems encountered at the finish line were due to the fact that there are times within which the majority of the participants finish their run simultaenously.

“This creates a bit of congestion, which is mainly caused by participants stopping to catch their breath, paramedics treating cases of exhaustion and participants collecting their health packs, which contain items like water, fruits, cereal bars and a foil blanket among others,” he said. 

The observations made by St John Ambulance’s Gemma Sirol also go along the same lines, saying that at times even the presence of the general public, including family and friends of the runners, further limited space for runners.

“This year, we are already discussing how to make the finish line less congested at these particular times when a large number of people finish the race at the same time,” she said.

Both first aid services said 2016 had presented something of an uncontrollable factor, with harsh winds blowing against runners throughout the morning.

“Not every race has the same problems, and one big problem we all encountered for the first time this year was the very strong wind,” Brincau said.

“Collapsing or fainting at the end of such races is pretty normal but over exhaustion due to issues like uncharacteristically warm or windy weather exacerbates the situation,” Brincau said, adding that over the marathon’s history, there had been many incidences of dehydration or people experiencing temporary chest pains due to over-exertion. 

Sirol said that autopsy results had revealed that the Briton who collapsed before finishing the race, Mike Freeman, had died of natural causes, something that wasn’t necessarily brought about by the marathon, but that can ultimately occur at any time in a person’s life.

Sirol added that beyond ideal weather conditions, runners should be responsible enough to monitor their health and train adequately ahead of such strenuous events. “If they feel the need to stop, runners should do so and there is no shame in this,” they said, stressing that sports events were a very rewarding part of leading a healthy lifestyle.

“Even in cases where people faint at the end of their run, they often say that they will participate again during the coming year, and this sentiment is something that should be encouraged, but a decision to participate in such events should be accompanied with a commitment to train adequately to avoid putting one’s health at risk.” 

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