Sports Players health in Uganda: Lessons from the Christian Eriksen scare at the Euro 2020 games

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By Ali Mutanje 

Denmark star Christian Eriksen is now in a stable condition in hospital. He suddenly collapsed during a Euro 2020 game on Saturday 12 June 2021 and needed CPR (Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation) on the pitch. 

The 29-year-old Inter Milan midfielder suddenly fell to the ground near the end of the first half with Finland at the Parken Stadium in Copenhagen. Eriksen was given CPR by frantic medics who sprinted onto the pitch as his sobbing teammates looked on. He received 13 minutes of medical treatment on the pitch. 

Eriksen’s former cardiologist at Spurs told The Mail Sunday that it was likely the star had suffered a cardiac arrest despite having no history of heart problems. Reports also claim his heart stopped for 5 minutes and if it’s proven to be a cardiac arrest he may never be able to play football again in Italy for his current side Inter Milan. 

Isolated case?

This is not the first time such cases have happened in football. Some have led to death. The first reported and recorded cases go as far back as 1896 when 27-year-old Teddy Smith of Bedminster in England Bedminster suffered severe concussion following a clash of heads in the Gloucestershire Cup semi-final against Eastville Rovers. He continued playing initially but was eventually forced to leave the game and died from his injury the next morning. 

In recent times in Europe, in a case similar to that of Eriksen, Ajax’s Abdelhak  Nouri in July 2017, at age 20, during a pre-season friendly match, Nouri collapsed and suffered a cardiac arrhythmia attack, which left him with severe and permanent brain damage and unable to continue as a footballer.

In Africa;

In 2001, Marc Vivian Foe died during a Confederations Cup in Cameroon 

The most pronounced case of similar stature happened to former Newcastle and Cameroon defensive midfielder Cheikh Tiote. Then at China Beijing Enterprises, the Ivorian defensive midfielder; collapsed and lost consciousness during a training session and was pronounced dead later that day with a suspected death caused by a heart attack.

What are the FIFA regulations? 

FIFA will appoint a FIFA General Medical Officer (GMO) for each respective tournament who will be responsible for managing all healthcare and medical service issues including coordination with LOC medical services, doping control testing and related healthcare matters and injury assessment.

FIFA Venue Medical Officers (VMO) will be allocated to each venue to supervise and oversee tournament medical services, undertake doping control testing and manage and coordinate all health issues at the venues.

the medical services at FIFA tournaments: is organised in such a way to provide effective and efficient emergency medical services to any medical emergency within and around the tournament football stadium, designated FIFA hotels and team training sites within a 3-5 minute response period. 

The case for Uganda football.

Cases in Uganda are not as well documented as those in Europe and some other countries in Africa. 

On 5th June 2021, Njuba Jeremiah died after collapsing on a pitch playing football. He told his friends he wasn’t feeling well before collapsing. According to the X-Police Morten report, Jeremiah succumbed to anomalous left coronary artery ( Heart attack due to shortage of oxygen)

In one case in 2019, a player in a regional league knocked his head on a goalpost in a corner kick situation. The “team doctor” came in and sprayed deep heat on his head.

Such cases may sound funny but they’re common and very serious in this nation. 

There’s a common photo of a G-touring car that was once used in one of the fields during a match as an ambulance. And when it had to get on the field to carry an injured player, the car had to be pushed due to lack of fuel.

However, there are cases that have been handled well- Faruku Miya once went down and was given quick first aid and taken to hospital shortly after.

There was an incident at Makerere Rugby grounds where a player lost consciousness. Fortunately, there was an ambulance which quickly rushed him to hospital and he survived. 

We could say only well established financially stable teams have managed to put a few measures up to standard. 

With such cases and much more similar to these; the lives of players are at risk in the case of a Christian Eriksen-like scenario. This raises questions such as; 

Are Ugandan teams equipping their medics well for such emergencies? Are there enough ambulances during competitive matches in the country in case of such incidences? Do the medical officers at our local football teams have the right knowledge to deal with these medical emergencies? Does every team have a doctor to oversee the health of players? Are players health records tracked?

Unfortunately, the answer to most of these questions is a resounding NO.

What can be done?

To be honest it’s impossible for every team or club playing football in Uganda to have a close-by ambulance. 

If FUFA made regulations for every team right from school football to community leagues to the Uganda Premier league to have a qualified football or sports doctor, the risk of death due to cardiac arrests would be easily managed. 

There’s is a module that is part of the FIFA diploma in football medicine titled “How to manage sudden cardiac arrest in football”. 

If a footballer collapses, the survival chances are high in the hands of qualified medical personnel. 

Mr Magogo should ensure our national team has at least two standby ambulances. They are non-existent at the moment yet they should be around even during training sessions. 

Stadiums should have medical facilities within or close by in case of heart attack emergencies on players. They only have a few minutes to be saved and the longer they have to travel for medical attention on our roads the higher their chances of death. 

Players, staff and coaches should be taught first aid tactics. We need our own Simon Kjaer who gave Eriksen CPR and saved his life. 

Players health is very vital and it’s only a matter of time that such a case occurs again, and we don’t know if it will be in Uganda or not. But adequate preparation never hurts if it makes the sport we love safer for everyone.

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