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Dr. Zafar Iqbal is an experienced specialist in sports medicine who, after completing an MSc in Sports and Exercise medicine in 2005, has worked for Leyton Orient FC, the England youth sides, Tottenham Hotspur FC and Liverpool FC. He has also held the position of Chairman of the Football Association (FA) Medical Society and is currently serving as the Head of Sports Medicine at Crystal Palace Football Club.

 

In an exclusive interview with PakPassion.net, Dr. Iqbal spoke about his own background and career in sports medicine where he has worked with some of the top names in international football, his interest in cricket, what the Pakistan Cricket Board can do to help Pakistan cricketers avoid and recover from sports injuries and the lack of Asian footballers coming through in the U.K.

 


By Saj Sadiq (6th October, 2016)
 
PakPassion.net : Tell us about your background and how you got involved in working with such high profile football teams?

Dr. Zafar Iqbal : I always wanted to be a doctor from a young age after my experiences with my sister who unfortunately had a brain tumor at a young age. After qualifying I initially wanted to be an Orthopaedic surgeon as I liked fixing things, but my interest in Sports Medicine started after I had a severe knee injury and received inadequate care. I found it unacceptable that I wasn’t being given treatment to enable me to get back to the level I wanted to play at and so undertook an MSc in Sports Medicine. I developed several Sports Medicine clinics and also became the Chairman of the FA Medical Society to help other doctors and physios working in Football Medicine. I then got an opportunity to work at Leyton Orient, a League 2 football club at the time and it snowballed from there.


PakPassion.net : You've worked at Tottenham Hotspur, Liverpool and now are at Crystal Palace. How has that been? It must have been very interesting working at these great clubs?

Dr. Zafar Iqbal : I’ve had an unbelievable time working at these three fantastic clubs. It's no secret that I’ve always been a Liverpool fan and the opportunity to work there was too good to turn down. I had to return to London as my family had stayed in London during the five years I was in Liverpool. At all of the clubs I have been fortunate to work with some great players, managers and staff and I have been blessed to have experienced what I have over the last eleven years working in football.


PakPassion.net : Given your Pakistani roots, you must be a cricket fan? Did you play cricket yourself and if so, up to what standard?

Dr. Zafar Iqbal : I love cricket and from a young age would play in the alleyway behind our house with wickets drawn on a wall. My father wanted me to focus on my studies and so I never got the opportunity to see how far I could have gone as I believe that I was an OK bowler.


PakPassion.net : Any other sports played or interested in? Also any sporting heroes that you admire and why?

Dr. Zafar Iqbal : I love most sports especially tennis and boxing. Basically any sports where individuals dedicate themselves to be the best at what they can be and test themselves physically and mentally.


PakPassion.net : Your favourite cricket players and footballers and why?

Dr. Zafar Iqbal : I've been lucky enough to work with some of my favourite footballers such as Steven Gerrard, Luis Suarez, Gareth Bale, Luka Modric and Philippe Coutinho – all of them were extremely gifted but worked very hard at it as well. Luckily they are great people as well. Regarding cricketers, I loved watching Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis play. The sight of them bowling from either end was simply awesome. Then for sheer drama you couldn’t go wrong with Imran Khan, Inzamam-ul-Haq and Shahid Afridi. 


PakPassion.net : Given your interaction with Pakistani cricketers, do you think they get the support that other athletes and sportsmen around the world get?

Dr. Zafar Iqbal : Sports Medicine is quite a new speciality and requires investment at all levels. My knowledge about the set up is based upon what I've heard from sports athletes from Pakistan and so difficult to comment without witnessing the setup personally.


PakPassion.net : What can the PCB do to help the with the management of player's injuries?

Dr. Zafar Iqbal : I think this would be the case for any athlete in Pakistan. Ideally they need the right specialist Sports Medicine advice and care. That only comes with investment and selecting the appropriately qualified personnel.


PakPassion.net : How can Pakistani cricketers help themselves to avoid injuries?

Dr. Zafar Iqbal : There’s lots that can be done and it is the same for all athletes wherever they are and what ever sport. They need to focus on nutrition, hydration, injury prevention by monitoring load and appropriate strength work. Recovery after training and games is vital. If they do get an injury then it is vital that they are managed correctly to help them return quickly and reduce risk of further injuries. 


PakPassion.net : I believe you plan to provide voluntary help and advice to several cricket and sports clubs in Pakistan. What do you aim to help them with and how?

Dr. Zafar Iqbal : I've been lucky to have gained the experience in Sports Medicine that I have had, having worked with some of the leading specialists in the world and also some of the best athletes in the world. I plan to try and share voluntarily some of what I have gained to help other athletes who may not be in the privileged position to get the care that footballers get in the Premier League in England. 


PakPassion.net : What should Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) do in order to bring Pakistan cricketers' fitness standards in line with modern-day expectations?

Dr. Zafar Iqbal : Simple speaking, the PCB need to invest and get the right specialists in across the whole setup at all levels. Other countries are investing in the Sports and Exercise Medicine provisions for players, as you need the best players available for as long as possible. 


PakPassion.net : Pakistan cricket has been notorious for injuries over the years. Why do you think that is and what can be done about it?

Dr. Zafar Iqbal : Probably the same reasons mentioned as above where they’ve not had access to the best Sports Medicine care and advice.


PakPassion.net : Would you like to work in international cricket in future?

Dr. Zafar Iqbal : I have worked with international cricketers and other sportsmen who have come to see me, but I’ve a good secure job in England and enjoy that. I have no plans for working abroad and even if I did I couldn’t because of our young kids.


PakPassion.net : Why aren't we seeing more Asians from the UK in professional football and do you see this trend changing.

Dr. Zafar Iqbal : This is a difficult question as there isn’t a single satisfactory answer. Personally, I think there aren’t enough Asians in football at the lower levels who will then filter through to the top. It’s a very hard profession requiring a huge amount of dedication and sacrifice where the chances of success are very small. I wouldn’t push my son even if he could to go down the route of football because the chances of succeeding are so slim compared with other careers. However there are plenty of other career pathways that people can follow in sports, rather like my own in Sports Medicine or even from the Sports Rehab or Sports business management aspect.

If you want to get basic information regarding keeping healthy and sports medicine and science advice for all athletes then you can contact Zafar on Twitter at @sportsdrzaf