This 'Mensch' doctor kept the World Cup clean

Kippah-wearing Orthodox Jew tested players for doping throughout the tournament


As France’s players celebrated victory in the moments after the final whistle of the World Cup final on Sunday evening, eagle-eyed viewers spotted a surprise figure.

There, on the pitch and being beamed to billions of viewers around the world, was a kippah-wearing Orthodox Jew shaking hands with French coach Didier Deschamps.

Efraim Kramer had not been as noticeable at any other point during the tournament but, as Fifa’s chief medical officer, the South African played a key role in the running of the World Cup.

Professor Kramer was responsible for medical services, including ambulance services, hospitals, doctors, mobile clinics, and anything else needed to ensure suitable facilities were available.

He was also in charge of testing players for doping at matches and throughout the tournament.

The 63-year-old grandfather spent the past month criss-crossing Russia flying between host cities to make sure patients were being well treated. “In the end, I’m exhausted,” he said, laughing, from his Moscow hotel room before preparing to return home to his day job as a professor at Johannesburg’s Witwatersrand University.

He described the medical team as an “entire army” of 6,700 people who worked tirelessly at what was his third World Cup, having started working with Fifa a decade ago.

“I came here to be part of a team to save lives. We did just that. So for me, that’s the highlight.”

It was while waiting to take players off for drug testing that he spotted Deschamps celebrating.

“France had just won the World Cup. So, like a mensch, I went to wish him mazeltov. Then, all of a sudden, spontaneously, in the spirit of the moment, we were hugging,” Prof Kramer explained.

A sense of “camaraderie” between players and different nations’ coaching staff stood out for him during the tournament.

“They are incredibly highly skilled and professional. They are fantastic people. I get to know them off the field.

These are fathers, husbands, people like us. And so are the people who look after them,” he said.

And what of Russia’s history of doping scandals in sport? Prof Kramer is diplomatic: “This year, it’s been a clean game. Everyone who played the game played it fair, played it equal, there was no cheating.”

During his 46 days in Russia, all his religious requirements were not just met, but respected by Fifa, he said.

“They provided me with three kosher meals each day as well as allowing me to observe both erev Shabbat and Shabbat properly in my room,” the medic said.

“They have just been absolutely fantastic in terms of how they let me practice my religion.”

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