THE sporting fraternity was recently plunged into mourning after the sudden death of former English Premier League star, Cheick Tiote last Monday.
The Ivorian international died after suffering a heart attack while training with Chinese club, Beijing Enterprises who he joined early this year after seven years at English club, Newcastle.
Tiote’s passing added on to the long list of footballers who have died of heart-related diseases since the first high profile case of Nigeria’s Samuel Okwaraji who collapsed while playing for his country in a World Cup qualifier against Angola in 1989.
In 2003, Cameroon midfielder Marc Vivien Foe collapsed and later died during a Confederations Cup match against Colombia.
Nigerians, Amir Angwe and Endurance Idahor also suffered the same fate.
Other African players to have died from a heart-related condition are Tunisian Hedi Berkhissa, Zambia’s Chaswe Nsofawa, Patrick Ekeng (Cameroon) and Gabonese defender Moise Brou Apanga.
In addition, top Portuguese side Benfica’s Miklos Feher died in 2004, Spanish side Sevilla lost Antonio Puerta in 2007, Espanyol also of Spain, lost Daniel Jarque in 2009 and Scottish side Motherwell lost Phil O’Donnell in 2007.
I am pained by these and other deaths- as a human being and as a sports person.
This also makes me reflect deeply on the situation here at home and got me pondering whether the powers that be at our clubs and in the national team setup really take seriously the need for players to be thoroughly examined to ensure they are medically fit.
While we fortunately have not had such tragic incidents in the country, that should however, not be construed to mean that our players are not at a risk.
It is indeed one of the requirements that clubs submit medical certificates to the Lesotho Football Association (LeFA) in order to get licences for their players but it is often whispered that many of these players never actually undergo the necessary stringent medical examinations.
It is said that many teams just bribe certain doctors for the medical certificates which they submit to LeFA.
This I know for sure because I experienced it during my playing days at one now defunct club in the 2011/11 season where I never went for any medical tests but was given the medical certificate by a team official and got my playing licence.
And yet such thorough checks have saved some lives as was the case with English side, Arsenal’s Nigerian legend Nwankwo Kanu who subsequently underwent heart surgery in November 1996 to correct a faulty aortic valve. This was discovered ahead of his big money move to Italian giants Inter Milan from Holland’s Ajax side.
Kanu had a second surgery in the United States in 2014 after he had retired.
The corrective measures not only saved his life but enabled him to have successful club and international careers which are remembered for the beautiful goals, skills as well as winners’ medals
Tiote’s death just reminded me of how careless and selfish administrators can be because they care about the bottom line more than the players’ health.
Players should take their lives more seriously and always strive to know their health status.
It has not happened in our country but no one knows when it will strike and surely no one will want to be a tragic statistic.
I am aware that going for medical checkups doesn’t make one immune from heart disease but knowing your condition means you can do something about it like Kanu.
Back in 2003, Senegal’s Fadiga Khalilou was diagnosed with a heart problem after joining Inter Milan and was advised to retire from the sport.
Against doctors’ advice, he joined Bolton Wanderers in England a year later where he collapsed during a warm up session before their game with Tottenham Hotspur leaving him with defibrillator fitted in his heart.
That is a typical example of carelessness from players who play Russian roulette with their lives but he fortunately lived to tell the tale.
We are in the off-season period and soon our league will be resume.
My sincere plea to our players is to please go for medical tests.
If not for yourself, then do it for your families, fans and the nation because we all suffer when tragedy strikes.
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