For The Players – From Joseph S. Blatter
As the year 2007 drew to a close, our game suffered anothcr devastating blow with the news that Phil O’Donncll, the 35-year-old rvlothcrwell captain, had collapsed during a Scottish Premier League match. He tragically died a short while later and tests showed that heart failure had once again been the cause of death.
Sadly, as we all know, Phil O’Donnell is not an isolated ease as other players have suffered the same fate, from Renfka’s Hungarian international Miklos Fehet to Brazil’s Serginho and Seville’s Antonia Puerta ro name but three … and chat is not to mention rhe fatalities that have befallen other sports.
While such deaths are obviously hatd to accept and comprehend, they were perhaps not unavoidable, Experts – particularly those employed by FIFA – have often stressed the link between sport and undetected heart defects. There arc many heart problems that often go unnoticed and can lead to an increased level of danger when playing sport.
Ever since the tragic death of Cameroons Marc-Vivien Foe at the FIFA Confederations Cup in France in June 2003, FIFA and irs medical experts have been pushing for players in top-Bight and international football to undergo thorough preventive medical examinations on a regular basis. FIFA itself was quick to lead the way by making it compulsory for all 736 players at the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany to take tests that involved electro-cardiograms to reveal any heart problems that had previous been undetected. At its most recent meeting in Tokyo in December 2007, the FIFA Executive Committee also decided to extend the tests conducted on players to include referees and assistant referees at all FIFA competitions.
I here is reason to believe, therefore, that the situation in football is better than in other sports. Indeed, many top-flight leagues have already introduced medical tests, albeit of varying standards. It is high time, however, for rhese tests to be further refined and made obligatory. In purely basic terms, clubs should not only test their players bones and joints but father subject their bodies to a thorough, exacting examination. They owe their most valuable employees exactly that, if only for ethical reasons.
Yet that poses the question as to who should recommend or even rule that a player should not be allowed ro play. Event organisers such as FIFA have no right to intervene in diagnosis proceedings or medical treatments and they simph cannot take responsibility for such matters auay from the doctors. The question of whether a player is in the right shape
and condition to play football can only be answered by his doctor, association and club, and of course by rhe player himseli.
If nothing else, just being aware of possible risks means that the battle is halfway to being won. A plaver who knows that he is at risk can make the correct decisions for himself by seeking medical advice and by keeping a close eye on his personal condition, lake Nigeria’s Nwankwo Kanu, for example, who was able ro make a comeback following an operation, or even Germanv’s Gerald Asamoah, who has a congenital heart defect but is still playing football at the very highest level while being monitored by his docror. In addition, modern automatic defibrillators are so easy to use that they can be handled by anyone should the need ever arise.
As you can see, we can all play our part in helping to avoid further mourning. So let us do just that – for the game and for the players.