Tuesday, March 16, 2010

FOOD FOR THOUGHT: Triple Tragedy Ignites Fear On the Turf

On February 28, the first major tragedy in Nigerian football was averted at Nnamdi Azikiwe Stadium in Enugu during a Premier League match between Enugu Rangers and Sunshine Stars of Akure.
It was during a Week 21 tie that was televised on national television. The scenario in Enugu was similar to the situation at Emirates Stadium in London when Chelsea skipper, John Terry, was saved by the physiotherapist of Arsenal, Gary Lewin, after he had been caught in the head by Abou Diaby's boot in a mid-way battle during a Premier League game two seasons ago.
Panic broke out in Enugu stadium on that Sunday afternoon just afer 20 minutes of play when a Sunshine Stars' defender, Olumide Ojedeji, collided with an attacker of Enugu Rangers and his own goalkeeper, Afesso Attah, in an aerial contest. The defender fell down and was unconscious immediately, making the medical team attending to him as well as players that were there raised alarm. It was the consultant doctor to the Flying Antelopes, Dr. Emeka Onyia, a consultant in anaethetics and a lecturer, who ensured that the country's football was not thrown of mourning by running to the scene to perform a cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) on the victim. The player recovered and was transferred for further treatment to the stadium clinic.
But six days later, the country was thrown into mourning. Stephen Worgu has never thought that a day would come when he would have to look at the round leather game with so much doubt. After joining Sudanese giant, El-Merreikh, last season for $2.5 million from five-time Nigerian champion, Enyimba, he realised a different whole new world in the North African country and also teamed up with his compatriots, Endurance Idahor and Kelechi Osunwa. At 19, Worgu played a key role in Enyimba's campaign in the 2008 CAF Champions League when the Peoples Elephant reached the semifinal.
He had previously featured for Ocean Boys in 35 games and scored 23 times before he was snapped up by the Peoples Elephant in 2007 and he also showed his scoring instinct by netting 17 times in 27 appearances for the Aba club. Now, the petite striker earns $1 million per annum though he has struggled to prove himself in 20 appearances by scoring just thrice to the disappointment of the club and knows that earning so much comes with a bigger sacrifice.
However, Worgu has struggled for one reason and has been in the shadows of a fellow Nigerian, Endurance Idahor, who is considered the best foreign player in Sudan by football journalists and fans. "Idahor was the best professional player to have come to Sudan during the past five years," Dawod Mustafa, chief writer for the sports daily, Al-Hilal, said.
But the tremor of losing Idahor, who has an intimidating record having scored 118 goals in 176 games for El-Merreikh, still runs through the mind of Worgu. And the former Ocean Boys' striker told our correspondent last Sunday that Idahor's demise underscores the fact that footballers might be risking their health and even death by playing in too many games coupled with strenuous training schedules.
"I am really scared now and sad at the loss of my friend and brother," Worgu began in a shaky voice during a telephone conversation with our correspondent. "In my life as a footballer I never knew that a day like this would come when I would watch a fellow teammate die on the field. It only shows that we are all taking risk in this game and our risk can lead to our untimely deaths."
Worgu did not stop there, as he remains in shock over reports claiming that the late Idahor might have suffered a heart attack. The former Flying Eagles' attacking winger, who turns 20 in April, cannot fathom the fact that his deceased teammate suffered a circulatory collapse from a heart attack since he was in the company of the player few hours before the game and he never complained of any pain to him.
"I have heard that he suffered a heart attack, but I really still don't believe that somebody that I spoke with and saw before the game would suffer that. We do talk a lot about everything and even things that affect us, but he didn't complain of anything to me like feeling pains anywhere. So, I am shock that he died of heart attack," Worgu lamented.
But unknown to Worgu, his compatriot had complained two days before the match in which he lost his life to some of his teammates about feeling pain in the area of his heart. A popular news website in Sudan revealed this much, but it is unclear if the matter was brought to the notice of El Merreikh doctors. At the same time, it is believed that Idahor decided to keep it secret so as to stay in the team since he enjoys a cult hero status in Sudan.
And just as the continent was mourning Idahor, another tragedy struck in Ghanaian league. Barely two days after the unfortunate incident in Sudan, Kessben Football Club defender, Bartholomew Yeboah, died after suffering a head injury in an aerial challenge in his club's league against Liberty Professionals. The 19-year-old was taken to Korle Bu Teaching Hospital in Accra before he passed on. No official report has been announced on the cause of the death of the player yet.
A day after Idahor's death in Sudan, the risk of one of the world's most popular sports was brought to the fore when a FUTSAL (five-a-side) player in Brazil, Robson Rocha Costa, died during a match after a piece of the court's wooden floor came off and struck him in the stomach. One of Brazil's biggest web portal, Globo's G1, reported that the 23-year-old footballer died of haemorrhagic shock last Sunday.
Witnesses said Costa was hurt after a sliding play near the end line. A small piece of the court apparently came off, as he was sliding, initially hitting his thigh and then making it to his intestines. Costa was immediately taken to a hospital and underwent surgery, but succumbed to his injuries.
The disturbing deaths of the three athletes across the globe have raised questions on the facilities at the disposal of some of the employers of the footballers, especially in Africa. Reacting to death of Idahor, Chairman of the Medical Commission of the Nigeria Olympic Committee (NOC), Dr. Lanre Glover, believes that thorough checks should be carried on all sportsmen and women before major games or championship regularly.
"Most people have what we in the medical field call silent heart problems that might not be easily known to the person suffering from it. Only regular medical checks can reveal such problems. "In the case of people, who are involved in rigorous physical activities like athletes they can easily have heart attack due to exhaustion because of high level performance," Glover told a news agency during the week.
The physician explained that it would be appropriate to carry out such regular medical examination on athletes every six months since they take part in activities that demand high performance in physical and mental ways.
"There is a need to subject them to medical examination at least every six months because of the high level of physical and mental exertions they go through before and during competitions," he said.
Another medical expert, Dr. Paul Onyiudo, who is with the medical department of the sports ministry in Nigeria also known as the National Sports Commission (NSC), attributed the suddenness of heart failures in athletes to stress. He said managements of clubs and individuals should endeavour to carry electrocardiogram (ECG) tests on athletes before, during and after games so as to detect whether players have abnormal rhythms in their heartbeats so as to avoid sudden deaths.
"Too much stress on the heart can lead to the sudden stoppage of the heart. If a player undergoes an ECG before a match, the blockage in the heart could be discovered," he said.
Only last month, a cardiologist and electro-physiologist at El Camino Hospital in Mountain View, California, Dr. Bing Liem, began raising awareness on a rare heart condition - congenital malformations of the heart or vascular system, which is to blame for the majority of sudden cardiac deaths in athletes under the age of 40.
"The fact that many athletes and their parents aren't cognizant of potential warning signs speaks volume on the importance of raising awareness on this condition. It's always heart-wrenching to hear news of a young athlete, at the zenith of fitness, dying suddenly on the sports field," said Liem, who estimates that up to one in 500 people have inherited heart disease that may predispose them to sudden death.
The medical expert explained that athletes and their doctors should watch out for seven warning signs of cardiac arrest. They include family history of sudden premature death, history of heart murmur, history of fainting or near-fainting, history of palpitations, feeling of discomfort in the chest during exertion, shortness of breath with exertion and light-headedness with or without exertion.
As a stop-gap measure in handling issues bordering on heart-related issues such as sudden cardiac deaths (SCD) during league matches in the country, Dr. Onyia, proffered that all professional clubs should ensure that their players are properly examined medically before the start of the season and at times carry out random tests on players to forestall such untimely deaths in the game.
Onyia, who is with the Enugu State University Teaching Hospital, added that clubs should also have qualified personnel on the sidelines in cases of heart-related emergencies and as well have necessary equipment for cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), including an Automated External Defibrillator (AED) during training and matches.
"All the players registered by the clubs should undergo pre-season medical examination. This should be taken seriously by the club managers in the country. If you don't do pre-season tests, you will not detect cases of heart problems and that is why you might have this occurring in games.
"Having qualified medical personnel at the side of the pitch in case of problems such as these are important. The person in question might not be a doctor per se but a person well-schooled or trained in the area of cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).
"Another way is that the clubs can acquire new equipment for this heart-related problem. This new equipment for CPR is called Automated External Defibrillator (AED). It is a common thing in every club in stadiums across the globe and I believe that every club should have that. So, the NPL should enforce this law to have an AED at their venues and if they do have this medical equipment, the issue of players dying as a result of cardiac arrest would be minimised," said the consultant medical personnel to the Flying Antelopes.
Just in the case of late Samuel Okwaraji, Amir Angwe, Tunde Charity and John Ikoroma, it is a sad case considering the fact that Idahor died in his prime. Saturday Independent also gathered that one of the players unfulfilled dreams was to move to Europe and that talks had reached conclusion stage with a German Bundesliga side so as to join it by the start of next season in Europe. And for his teammate at El-Merreikh, Worgu, it is a love that has fallen into pieces as he is left with only memories of the kind gestures and brotherly affection the late Idahor showed him when he (Worgu) arrived in a difficult terrain as Sudan.
"Idahor was not just a friend to me but a big brother," said Worgu as he sobbed while describing his late compatriot. "I still remember how he encouraged me when I came to El-Merreikh and all the good things he said to me when it was tough adapting to the people and lifestyle here. How he told me that the lifestyle here can help me to improve my attitude off the pitch. There were so many things he did for me that I can't tell."

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