Dr Sheree Bekker from Bath’s Centre for Health, and Injury & Illness Prevention in Sport has been awarded two prizes from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) and the Institute of Musculoskeletal Health and Arthritis for research published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine on how societal factors affect knee injury in female athletes.

Girls and women are approximately three to six times more likely to suffer an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury, which can be career-ending for athletes. Dr Bekker was part of a research team, led by Dr Joanne Parsons, an associate professor of physical therapy at the College of Rehabilitation Sciences at University of Manitoba.

Their paper argued that gendered environments may play a significant role in this disparity in ACL injury rates between women and men. The researchers applied for CIHR-IMHA Inclusive Research Excellence Prizes in two out of five categories – ‘research impact’ and ‘team science’ – and won both, valued at $25,000 each.

Dr Bekker, who is also part of the new IOC UK Collaborating Centre on Injury and Illness Prevention in Sport (UKCCIIS) said: “It is a huge honour to be recognised again for our ground-breaking work on gender and sports injuries. With the growing recognition of ACL injuries in women's sport as a major concern, these prizes will allow us to continue our work on understanding the nature of this injury and its prevention.

"Currently, 25 of the top football players in the world are missing the Women's World Cup 2023 because of ACL injury, including Lionesses Beth Mead and Leah Williamson. Our research is flipping the script on how we understand these injuries, moving from focusing on hips and hormones to thinking about the role that gender and the environment plays.

“We say that women's bodies are not inherently prone to this injury, but have been made so - and these prizes will enable us to keep investigating how this can lead to more effective prevention strategies."

Their research has since been endorsed by women’s soccer organizations in Australia and the UK and has been featured in international and media presentations, including the Washington Post, Yahoo Sports and Women’s Health Magazine.

Dr Joanne Parsons who led the work from Canada added: “Over the last two years, and especially now with the Women’s World Cup going on in New Zealand and Australia, there has been a lot of attention around our work.

“There are huge numbers of professional women’s soccer players who have suffered ACL injuries, and some of the biggest stars have been sidelined and are unable to play in the tournament.”

Parsons says the funding will help the team conduct additional research and collect evidence to further support their model. “Receiving the CIHR-IMHA Inclusive Research Excellence Prizes is an honour, but also a testament to the innovation and impact of our approach. The conversation around sports injuries has completely changed since the publication of our paper – the focus is now on gender inequity and its far-reaching effects,” she said.

“This funding will allow us to keep advocating for a gendered environmental approach with sport organizations around the globe and here at home, with the ultimate goal of making sport a welcoming, healthy, inclusive space for all.”

To access the full review: 'Anterior cruciate ligament injury: towards a gendered environmental approach' in the BMJ see https://bjsm.bmj.com/content/55/17/984.full.