Football players to get compulsory check-ups
Switzerland’s top footballers will have their hearts examined as part of new mandatory health checks carried out by their clubs.
The decision comes shortly after the deaths of two sportsmen in Spain and Switzerland of cardiac arrest.
Europe’s football governing body, Uefa, last year decided to insist on tests for teams involved in European competitions.
The Swiss Football League (SFL) announced the introduction of the measure this week. It is due to come into force as of next season and is part of its revised licensing rules for clubs under Uefa guidance.
“There were a number of cases in recent years that certainly prompted Uefa to introduce a series of measures that institutionalised medical checks,” said Claudius Schäfer, head of legal services and licensing at the SFL.
The death from heart failure of Cameroon’s Marc-Vivien Foé in 2003 at the Confederations Cup sent the first warning to the football community at large, especially after two autopsies revealed no drugs or foul play.
Uefa reacted by demanding compulsory health checks for some competitions, in particular the Uefa Cup and the Champions’ League.
A spate of recent cases on and off the pitch have led the European association to consider overhauling its latest procedures, changes that are to be discussed in October.
Doctors say the deaths from heart failure among fit, young athletes, including Spanish player Antonio Puerta a few weeks ago, are not that unusual.
“There are plenty of reasons for cardiac arrest,” said Toni Held, a sports medicine specialist and cardiologist at Basel University.
“Malformation of the heart, coronary disease, or infection are just a few possible causes. Playing when ill or not taking enough time to recuperate also increase the risk of heart failure.”
This is not just the case for footballers. A participant in last month’s Federal Wrestling Festival died shortly after finishing a bout.
The Swiss Football League has already chosen to extend checks to all the top division clubs, not just those taking part in European competitions. Teams will have to certify their players have undergone a full battery of tests to receive their licence.
“We want clubs to keep an eye on players’ health during the season,” Schäfer told swissinfo.
Teams have occasionally been loath to carry out checks, claiming the whole process was too expensive.
“Financially, it makes good sense for clubs to do these tests,” counters Held. “It’s protecting their investment, but many have preferred to take their chances and spend big on players – money that might be wasted.”
Held, who also works for the private Hirslanden health clinic in Basel, says that when it was suggested to the clubs that organising tests on a voluntary basis would be in their interest, the suggestion was turned down.
The new medical checks will be under the club’s responsibility. The Football League is not considering independent testing, trusting teams to do their job properly.
For Schäfer, the procedure is reliable enough. “Since both the clubs and their medical staff must sign a form confirming they have carried out the tests, there is no reason to doubt them,” he added.
swissinfo, Scott Capper
Sevilla’s Antonio Puerta died at the age of 22 after collapsing during a Spanish first division match. The cause was a rare weakness of the right heart ventricle. It is however often responsible for sudden cardiac arrest among athletes.
In such cases, an alteration of the cardiac muscle tissue leads to an expansion of the right ventricle, which can cause fatal changes in heartbeat and can ultimately lead to cardiac arrest.
Israel-based Zambian international Chaswe Nsofwa recently collapsed after a training session in the southern Israeli town of Beersheba and died shortly afterwards. The exact cause of death is not yet known.
In England, Walsall's 16-year-old youth player Anton Reid also died after collapsing on the pitch.
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