The football world stopped its breath on 12 June 2021 as one of the finest players in recent years, Christen Eriksen, collapsed in the middle of a UEFA Euro group stage game without any noticeable injury. The game was approaching halftime when the Danish International went down and the referee was quick to stop the game and signal an emergency. The players rushed towards Eriksen in what seemed a horrifying and serious health concern.
As the medical team made their way to the field, the Danish players covered Christian Eriksen while he received treatment, to provide some privacy. The silence in the stadium, anxiety on the faces of all players made the solemnity of the situation pretty clear.
In this article, we will take a look at the potential causes behind this extremely critical yet rare incident, and what the authorities can do better to work on players’ health. Aged just 29, with no genetic cardiac ailments, it is imperative to investigate the matter in great detail.
The most notable aspect has to be the tight schedules that have been prevalent in club football ever since the outbreak of Covid-19. The suspension of all top European Leagues in March 2020 implied a late finish to the 2019/20 season in the last week of August. With very little gap and almost negligible pre-season, the 2020/21 campaign commenced in September 2020 with tight schedules yet again to compensate for the usually early August start. Now that the season has ended, players have had to yet again prepare themselves for the UEFA Euro. The pride associated with representing their nations in a major tournament also often induces players to even play with minor injuries. The bottom line here is that UEFA, FIFA and all national football governing bodies need to keep a check on the unsustainable nature of fixtures. Top managers like Jurgen Klopp and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer have also complained about the issue in recent months. The incident with Christian Eriksen must act as a red alert for more potential catastrophes in the future.
One could also argue that the comparatively high temperature at the Parken Stadium in Copenhagen could also have played a part. With fans in attendance and 48% humidity, the heat at the pitchside might have been an important factor in the accident. It emphasizes the importance of cooling breaks that FIFA and UEFA have decided to introduce in summer tournaments in recent years.
Football needs to learn from this incident and understand the risks first before jumping to solutions. Sudden death from cardiac arrest in a young person is a very rare but tragic outcome. The baseline risk in Australia for people under 35 is 1.3 per 100,000 people per year, with 15% occurring either during or immediately after exercise.
Across all ages, 20,000 sudden cardiac arrests in Australia occur out of the hospital every year, and sadly only 10% of people survive.
In 2018, the results of a study of more than 11,000 footballers aged 16 and 17 were published, showing the risk of sudden cardiac death was one in 14,700. That just looked at young players, and across all the literature on this, it seems the most cited figure is one in 50,000 for all athletes.
According to the Sports Institute at UW Medicine (University of Washington) in Seattle, 1 or 2 in every 100,000 active sportspersons experience sudden cardiac arrest each year. Males are at greater risk than females, and African American athletes are at greater risk than Caucasian athletes, the institute says.
It is also important to note that Christian Eriksen is not the first top-flight player to face heart-related issues in a live game. Other famous players like Iker Casillas, Bafetimbi Gomis and Check Tiote have also succumbed to heart ailments during games which makes it even more necessary to focus on necessary steps for protecting players’ health.
Most importantly, it becomes essential for players, referees and coaching staff to understand the process of CPR in case of such an emergency. It becomes extremely vital for authorities to ensure the widespread availability of defibrillators during all games to ensure that CPR can be performed in the first place.
In England, defibrillators are mandatory at all grounds down to step four of the National League system. Below that, it’s understood that about 90% of clubs at steps five and six have one.
The Football Association has been working with companies to get defibrillators for grassroots clubs heavily subsidized.
But because, according to FA rules, it isn’t compulsory at a grassroots level to have a defibrillator, it will be up to the clubs and local authorities whether they have one in place or whether they’re using one in the local community.
Referees, players and coaches should be educated about potential warning signs like fainting spell during exercise, chest pain while exercising, excessive shortness of breath during exercise, unexplained palpitation, unexplained seizures et cetera to caution themselves timely.
Football is the sport we love, however, no fan wants it to come at the cost of the well-being of our superheroes.