Dr. Paul Dhillon’s soccer career may have humble origins but the local general practitioner is gearing up to lead team Canada at the World Medical Football Championship this July in Prague.
Dhillon, who works at Cowrie Medical Clinic in Sechelt and in Sechelt Hospital, grew up playing in local leagues in Victoria and Tsawwassen. “I’ve never been a great player, but I’m a decent organizer,” he said during a shift last week at the Cowrie clinic.
At least 23 teams from across the globe will compete in the tournament, which is heading into its 24th year. While off the pitch, assembled physicians participate in a sports medicine congress, which runs concurrently with the tournament.
Spanish physicians founded the volunteer-run championship in Europe in the 1990s. Its popularity grew and by 2006 it went international. Today organizers turn down teams, Dhillon said.
That’s also the case for team Canada. He said 78 Canadian physicians expressed interest, and Dhillon, who manages the team, made the final cuts this week. The current squad has players hailing from B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario, Quebec and Nova Scotia. Players have a chance to cut their teeth in Mexico where they will attend a training weekend prior to the tournament and compete against Colombia, Mexico and the U.S.
Dhillon said he was struck with the idea to form a Canadian team after learning about the tournament from the Irish Medical Times email newsletter while attending medical school in Ireland. “If it wasn’t for that one email, Canada wouldn’t have a team,” he said.
Team Canada consists of a handful of elite players, including two who almost played semi-pro and another who played for the reserve squad for Toronto FC. “You really can’t have a full-time professional soccer career and study medicine. So it’s a neat chance for them to come back and play football,” Dhillon said, adding that the competition can get intense. “Anytime you get that many physicians who are all sort of type-A individuals … it’s pretty high quality football.”
There is no separate tournament for women, but mixed-gender teams are allowed in the secondary event for players 45 and older, called the Clemens Vogel Cup.
And if injuries do happen, they have a strategy for that – and options. “We have an ophthalmologist, we have an orthopaedic surgeon, we have a general surgeon, general practitioners, we have a nephrologist, so it’s probably a team-based approach and it’s probably the best care [and] quick.”
This will be the third time a Canadian team competes at the championship, Dhillon said. “It’s an incredible feeling to have the Canadian flag on your chest and line up and sing the national anthem.”