Sport is beneficial to health, but may also cause injuries. Therefore there is a need for sports injury prevention. Sports injury prevention should be based on the outcome of scientific research and should be part of the 'sequence of prevention'. In applying the 'sequence of prevention', first the incidence and severity of the sports injury problem need to be established. Secondly the aetiology and the mechanism of sports injuries need to be identified. Only based on this information can preventative measures be introduced, which must subsequently be evaluated for effectiveness. The principle of the 'sequence of prevention' cannot be applied without proper sports injury surveillance. This paper addresses the question of whether one uniform sports injury surveillance system can be used to cover all aspects of sports injury research at all stages of the 'sequence of prevention'. It is argued that a general sports injury surveillance system is useful for answering questions about the incidence and severity of the sports injury problem in various subsets of a population. It can also be used for time trend studies. If the purpose of injury surveillance is to identify the aetiology or the effectiveness of preventative measures, then sports injury surveillance should be tailored to the specific sports situation. Sports injury surveillance systems are not useful in identifying the mechanism of injury.