Sports Medicine from South Africa — SASMA biennial congress begins this week!

Dr. Pierre Viviers, President of SASMA

It’s been a while since we have invited a sports medicine colleague to a “Five Questions with CJSM” interview.

What better time to catch up with the current President of the South African Medical Association (SASMA) than on the eve of SASMA’s biennial Congress?

My dear friend Dr. Pierre Viviers of Stellenbosch University is a very busy man right now as he places the final touches on what is sure to be one of the premier events of this year’s sports medicine calendar.  Having attended SASMA in 2015  in Johannesburg, I can attest to what an exciting and stimulating event this Congress is.

True to form, Dr. Viviers did not hesitate to volunteer for this interview when I reached out to him, despite his busy schedule.  I hope you enjoy our conversation and that it whets your appetite for what is coming later this week from Cape Town.  If you can’t be there, be sure to follow #SASMA2019 on social media.

And now….Dr. Viviers!


  1. CJSM: The biennial Congress of SASMA is taking place 10 – 13 October 2019 in Cape Town, the “Mother City.” It is a joint Congress with SASMA and BRICSCESS.  Can you tell us about what you see as the highlights of the program, and for the readers unfamiliar with BRICSCESS can you tell us about that organization?

Pierre Viviers (PV): It is a joint congress which also includes the 6th Annual Congress on Medicine and Science in Ultra-Endurance Sport which will definitely be a highlight. The pre-congress workshops are always popular and well attended. This will include 2 full-day workshops presented by ‘Exercise is Medicine South Africa” (EIM SA) and SAIDS (SA Institute for Drug-free Sport), as well as a half-day workshop by the S.A Sport-Physiotherapy group.

A highlight for me personally, is the integrated participation between scientists and medical professionals throughout the program.

Opening the narrative of social justice and the role which sport can play, especially in a country like S.A, will be one of our most influential South Africans, Prof Thuli Madonsela, activist for social justice and human rights, previous public protector and advocate in the High Court of S.A.  This is definitely a session not to be missed.

The prestigious Noble lecture will be presented by a good friend and colleague, Cheri Blauwet from Harvard Medical School & Spaulding Rehab Hospital, Boston. Cheri’s journey in injury and illness prevention in the elite Paralympic athlete will be a certain highlight. A symposium later in the conference will be another highlight, focusing on “innovations in athletes with disability.”

The sport nutrition colloquium led by Louise Burke (Australia) and other prominent South Africans in the field is another highlight.

The featured science session on player welfare in rugby union as well as the featured clinical symposium on Sport Related Concussion will reveal interesting concepts in injury prevention and management in this popular South African collision sport.

The session on mental health in athletes presented by two leaders in the field will also give new insight in prevalent mental health issues which may influence athlete welfare and performance.

The BRICES countries are Brasilia, Russia, India, China and South Africa and BRICSCESS is the Council of Exercise and Sport Science founded to specifically look into health and wellness of people within these counties. However, this is there second international congress. The council also strives to bring communication together between the BRICS countries on issues influencing health and wellness through universities and other platforms. The Council is also dedicated to leadership development in young scientists within the field.


  1. CJSM: You are winding down your term as President of SASMA. What are the fondest memories of your past two years of service?  Who is the incoming President?

PV: The interaction with people passionate about science and medicine in sport with a goal to increase athlete welfare and performance – that is something I will treasure. I am thankful for new friendships made throughout the country as well as the opportunity to build on SASMA’s existing international network on various platforms. I will remember the first meeting to plan this exciting congress in collaboration with BRICESS, the vulnerability, but also the decision not to create obstacles, but rather turn it around into opportunities (which I think is the success behind the congress). I will always remember the hours, and hours of planning the congress, deciding on themes (which started 18months ago, on the plane from S.A to USA to attend ACSM).

The incoming president will be Prof Christa Janse van Rensburg a classmate during sports medicine study and good friend for years.

We are also excited to welcome Dr Sharief Hendricks as the president-elect. It is a bit of history, but in two years’ time he will be the first non-medical trained president of SASMA. He earned his position through years of dedication leading the Western Cape branch.

  1. CJSM: You are on Twitter (@thematiesdoc) as is SASMA (@sasma2019) – if you were drafting a Tweet to promote the upcoming Congress, what would it say (remember! 280 character limit!).

Just some of the amazing sports medicine researchers and clinicians from RSA, including 2nd from left Christa Janse van Rensbrug (incoming SASMA president) and 3rd from left Pierre Viviers

PV: “Do not miss this opportunity to learn from world leaders in the field of sport science #SS and sport and exercise medicine #SEM –  make friends, have fun and enjoy the Cape Town hospitality. This is the opportunity to enhance your service to athletes and hone your research focus.”

  1. CJSM: In the world of sports medicine, I am always struck by how the RSA punches above its weight. The quantity and impact of the research that comes out of your country is impressive – I am thinking of the work you do at the Univ of Stellenbosch along with Wayne Derman, as well the work from Martin Schwellnus and Christa Janse van Rensburg from the Univ of Pretoria, and the contributions of Jon Patricios and Tim Noakes, to name just a few).  To what do you attribute this success?

PV: Work by early pioneers, such as Tim Noakes, established the importance of a sound research base for training of clinicians within the field. Although relatively new to the game, top class research came out of the South African pipeline from the start. From that followed excellent training based on research knowledge which perpetuated further ongoing research.  Secondly, networking with international collaborators — associations with the likes of the IOC, FIFA, World Rugby, and participating in the activities of ACSM, AMSSM, etc.—has been thought provoking and has stimulated research throughout top quality South African institutions. A further important aspect to the success is the strong relationship between current SEM units in the country. An example is the IOC Research Centre in South Africa, which is shared between SEMLI (Univ Pretoria) and ISEM (Univ of Stellenbosch).

  1. CJSM: Time to brag on yourself in particular, a bit. You (along with colleagues at ISEM) were awarded the prestigious David Sisk Award for Best International Paper for the official journal of the American Orthopaedic Association, Sports Health.  What was the nature of the research for which you won this award?

PV: ISEM is very interested in translational research.  Our group investigated the use of innovative technology in electronic heart auscultation, developed by bioengineers at Stellenbosch University, to assist clinical nurses in rural clinics in identifying structural heart murmurs in the pediatric patients who visit these clinics. Knowing the challenge, especially amongst inexperienced sport physicians, to make these same decisions in athletes during the pre-participation health examinations (PPE), provoked the interest to research applicability of this specific technology within the athletic population. We then used the opportunity to recruit collegiate athletes during their annual PPE to test whether CAA (computer assisted auscultation) has the ability to accurately detect cardiac murmurs of structural origin. We saw the potential of cutting down on unnecessary and expensive investigations while clinically ensuring the safety of our athletes.


Thank you so much Pierre. Best of luck this week in Cape Town.  And all readers, please follow #SASMA2019 this week for the proceedings!


About sportingjim
I work at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio USA, where I am a specialist in pediatric sports medicine. My academic appointment as an Associate Professor of Pediatrics is through Ohio State University. I am a public health advocate for kids' health and safety. I am also the Deputy Editor for the Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine.

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