Former McLaren boss launches £ 40million project to track and reduce sports injuries among schoolchildren

Ron Dennis intended to retire at 65 but, like so many workaholics, that date has rather slipped.

It wasn’t until five years later, in June 2017, that he left McLaren’s headquarters with no intention of returning. He was a millionaire several times and had worked in F1 since the age of 18. He could have taken off into the sunset, never spoken to anyone again, worked on his handicap in golf and happily lived through the years.

Dennis doesn’t know how to stop. The only thing he knew was that he didn’t want someone else to “drum” anymore. He was going to dance to his own tune.

The easiest thing to do, he says, would have been to write a check to a charity of his choosing, or to fill some of the non-executive positions that were offered to him. But that would not be enough.

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“My mindset was, I want to do things that make a difference, I want to find them myself and I want to be able to use my expertise,” said Dennis. I.

Charity is not a new venture for Dennis, and he had appreciated how rewarding it could be to do anything other than try to win races on a Sunday when he helped found Tommy’s one, a charity that set out to reduce prematurity and miscarriage rates after he and his then-wife Lisa lost a child. He later learned that one in four children conceived never reach full term.

“Horrible,” he said. Equally horrifying, they then worked for 10 years and felt they hadn’t saved a single life, despite the money raised and spent on research across the country.

Then there was a breakthrough. Tommy’s has now saved the lives of thousands of babies.

“You just get an overwhelming sense of accomplishment,” adds Dennis.

“It doesn’t matter how little you have [done], or whatever your role, you made a difference.

“I am able to tell the difference and I am looking for nothing, except to have a moment in a few years, where something as tangible as thousands of baby lives saved comes to fruition thanks to this initiative.

His latest movement aims to make an impact on children later in life, between the ages of 11 and 18. His new company, Podium Analytics, will analyze data from hundreds of thousands of children in hopes of reducing the incidence of sports injuries among young people.

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This is a massive project, with the necessary backing: it was started at 10 Downing Street with two ministries on board, as well as the support of the national rugby and hockey governing bodies, CVC Capital Partners (co-owners of the Six Nations and former owners of Formula 1) and the University of Oxford, where the new institute that will lead the long-term study will be based. The 10-year project will be the longest study of its kind and aims to record every sports injury in selected schools, which will cover up to 200,000 children – with data anonymized at the source. Schools and grassroots sports clubs will be offered free use and training on a digital platform for injury recording. After a pilot in 20 schools last summer, the goal is to reach 200 by September 2022.

Eventually, Dennis hopes the whole country will submit injury data to the institute.

“If you are lost, the first thing you need to do is figure out where you are,” he says, having discovered a surprising lack of data in the region when he first became aware of the frequency of injuries. while working as governor at Wellington College.

“A kid can run down the hall at school, fall and cut his knee, and that goes into an accident report, but he can go to a football field, meet another kid and have a concussion,” and nothing happens.

“They could go to A&E [half of all sports-related attendances relate to people aged under 20], but there is nothing recorded – and something like a concussion, which is very much in the spotlight, is a cumulative injury and it can happen in a variety of places: in school, then in an academy. , then in amateur sport.

“Yet there is no connection between these three places.”

Still, there are links between traumatic injuries such as concussions or severe musculoskeletal injuries and problems later in life – although data in this area is scarce.

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When Dennis debuted in F1 in 1966 the data was there for everyone, albeit in a simplistic and even more brutal form: barely a year went by without the paddock losing at least one driver in a fatal accident.

Thankfully, Formula 1 fatalities are now much rarer, in part because it’s a sport that processes huge amounts of data, knows how to use it, and constantly changes its security measures, this is where the Dennis’ experience comes into play. Not that he will. doing the modeling and shaping of the artificial intelligence himself involved, but he was the one who helped build the team and will help implement their work – as well as taking responsibility for collecting funds. He has already raised £ 40million, a significant portion of which comes from his own family’s charitable foundation, as well as CVC and several ‘very high net worth people’.

“It’s a great start to what will become a much, much bigger project than people realize – and I say that with certainty. Because when I focus on something, I do it.

No one who has met Dennis for the past eight decades would disagree with this.

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