When Atletico Madrid striker, Fernando Torres slumped on the field of play under challenge from Alex Bergantinos of Deportivo La Coruna in a Spanish La Liga game on March 3, 2017, the news sent ripples across the world of football. This was a player who had won virtually all the top prizes in football, including the 2010 FIFA World Cup, 2008 and 2012 UEFA Euros, and 2012 UEFA Champions League, where he put up an incredible display for Chelsea to send holders Barcelona out of the competition. He reportedly sustained head trauma after the 85th-minute challenge.
Thankfully however, the 32-year-old was revived after fellow players immediately applied Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) before medical staff came on the pitch. Although initial test showed no signs of any serious spine or head injuries, the former Spain striker was hospitalized overnight as a precaution. He is already on his way to full recovery.
Perhaps the case of Bolton Wanderer’s Fabrice Muamba better explains the importance of timely CPR. Muamba, who was 23 years old at the time, collapsed from cardiac arrest on March 17, 2012, in an FA Cup game against Tottenham Hotspur. His heart reportedly stopped for 78 minutes, causing the game to be abandoned.
According to medical experts, every minute lost before applying CPR is estimated to decrease chances of survival by 10%. Writing for The Guardian, Euan Ferguson wrote, “It didn’t take long, in Muamba’s case, for the CPR to be administered… It was seconds before other players noticed.” While some players were administering CPR, others were waving frantically for the medical staff to come on the field. At the end of it all, Muamba survived.
These are instances of football players abroad who suffered life-threatening medical emergencies while in action but survived after immediate application of CPR. But many footballers, including Nigerians, have died abroad while playing football.
Previous Death by Nigerians:
February 2000: John Ikoroma, a 17-year-old Nigerian youth international, suffered a heart attack during a friendly in the United Arab Emirates. He was in a trial match for Al-Wahda against Kazakh club Astona when he collapsed 20 minutes before the final whistle. He died in hospital.
1997: Emmanuel Awanegbo, a Nigerian playing in Germany, died after only 12 minutes of play. The death was attributed to cardiac arrest.
1995: Amir Angwe, 29, a striker for the Julius Berger Club of Nigeria, collapsed a minute before the end of an African Cup Winners’ Cup semi-final match with Maxaquene of Mozambique. Doctors believe he died of a heart attack.
In the Nigerian Professional Football League, we may rightly recall the sudden death of Emmanuel Ogoli, an Ocean Boys FC left fullback who slumped and died during a league match against Niger Tornadoes on December 12, 2010, in Yenegoa. Ogoli was confirmed dead on the way to the hospital in an ambulance.
The painful loss of Samuel Okparaji will never leave the heart of every Nigerian who either stayed glued to their television set or was present at the stadium. He died while playing for the Eagles at the National Stadium, Lagos for the Italia ‘90 FIFA World Cup qualification.
He made the Green Eagles squad in 1988 and at that year’s African Nations Cup he scored one of the fastest goals in the history of the championship against the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon. He played along until the final match, where the Eagles lost to their perennial rivals Cameroon by a lone goal.
Okwaraji collapsed ten minutes from the end of a game against Angola in Lagos and died from congestive heart failure. An autopsy showed that the 25-year-old had an enlarged heart and high blood pressure. The sudden death was similar to that of Marc-Vivien Foé 14 years later.
A common thread to the cases highlighted above is that information is not readily available, except in one or two cases, as to whether the victims had access to first aid, especially CPR, immediately after the incident which could have boosted their chances of survival.
The “First Aid Manual and Related Healthcare Issues for Football” produced by world football governing body FIFA aims to equip non-medically qualified personnel involved in football especially in developing countries with practical knowledge of “dealing with injuries and illnesses, mainly on the field of play, both in training and in matches”.
This 148-page booklet, a treasure trove of first aid information in football, can help save the lives of many footballers but it is doubtful if as many players as possible have access to the information contained in the manual.
In a telephone chat with Safety Record Newspaper, the Secretary of the Lagos State Coaches Council, Mr. Rasheed Itebalume said he possesses the First Aid Manual and Related Healthcare Issues for Football, which is reviewed annually, and other manuals by the apex football body.
He said the manuals coaches are meant to handle include those concerning laws of the game, first aid, major rules of the game especially doing with match fixing in the pro-league, Nigeria national league and at the grassroots levels.
He said, “We are in talks with the NFF in conjunction with the Lagos State Council of Coaches alongside with the Copa Lagos project coming up where we discuss as it concerns (players’ wellbeing).
“A lot needs to be done; seminar has to be done with both coaches and players. The coaches are also affected. You find them shouting at players. The coaches through the seminar will be able to save their lives psychologically and mentally.”
While the booklet is specifically targeted towards football coaches and non-medically qualified First Aiders, players should be compelled to read it since they are usually the closest to teammates or opponents who may require urgent first aid treatment.
When Safety Record Newspaper spoke with Rasaq Adegbite who plays for Sunshine Stars in the Nigerian Professional Football League, he said that he is yet to come across the FIFA manual.
“As a player, the First Aid Manual and Related Healthcare Issues for Football is not known to me but we are being taught some required things we need to know as it pertains to first aid.”
When contacted, the Team Doctor of the Super Eagles, Dr. Gyaran Ibrahim Abubakar, told our reporter that regular seminars are convened to bring medical personnel involved with the various teams up to speed with the latest trends in the field.
“The NPFL in conjunction with the NFF medical committee has been holding regular seminars on management of emergencies in football.
“The last one was held in 2015 in Abuja and renowned experts were invited from abroad to deliver lectures and practicals to team doctors of all the league clubs; it’s not for players and I believe the doctors from the clubs should teach the players on the basic on first aid, sports injury and emergencies,” he said.