Following Bolton Wanderers midfielder Fabrice Muamba’s cardiac arrest, the subject of heart screening in football has once again become a focus for discussion. It is an issue that no-one in football, at any level of the game, can afford to take lightly and FIFA are doing everything they can to ensure that the screen of players is the best it can be.
Muamba is still at the London Chest Hospital, 12 days after he collapsed during the first half of an FA Cup match against Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane. Thankfully he is making progress in his recovery.
Professor Jiri Dvorak, FIFA’s Chief Medical Officer and Chairman of the FIFA Medical and Research Centre has said that world football’s governing body will be studying cardiac arrest cases in football players to learn what causes sudden collapses like Muamba’s. The project will be put forward at a special conference in May.
“We have invited all national team doctors to establish a worldwide database for cases of sudden cardiac arrest,” said Professor Dvorak. “This will lead to analysis of the risk factors.
“We have been working on prevention since the Marc-Vivien Foe case in 2003, when we re-assessed the situation. It was the wake-up call that we needed to deal with this situation and do everything to mitigate the risk factor. In 2005, we proposed to have complete examinations of every player prior to competitions. This was applied in 2006 at the FIFA World Cup and in 2007 at the FIFA Women’s World Cup and all teams complied. After this, FIFA made it mandatory for all of its competitions.
“You always can do more. For instance we recommended that national team players should have medical assessments before games. More and more member associations are following that advice, but medical standards are extremely different from one area to another. In Central Europe, the standards are extremely high, but then we have to assist less affluent countries.
“This is something we discussed at the first Medical Conference two years ago in Zurich where we invited doctors from every single member association. On 23 and 24 May in Budapest this year, we’ll have the second medical conference of this kind, where we’ll take the next steps.”
More education required
Despite all these preparations and precautions, Professor Dvorak pointed out that it is impossible to cater for every single potential accident that can occur during a game of football and there will always be cases of seemingly healthy individuals suffering major problems.
“Doctors now understand the necessity, so the exams get done,” he continued. “We have to make sure they do the appropriate exam, which includes an evaluation of the athlete’s clinical history, followed by a physical exam and then an electro cardiogram. If there is any suspicion, they would then perform the echo cardiogram. That would lower risk, but we can’t eliminate it, which is what happened with Fabrice Muamba. From the very first moment, we have been in contact with Bolton Wanderers. We wish him all the best, and it’s fantastic that he is recovering.
“If a cardiac event occurs on the pitch, we need to make sure people are ready for emergency interventions. This is a very important topic which will be discussed at the medical conference.
“It is required at FIFA competitions to have an appropriate medical staff around the pitch and a defibrillator in the stadium. But here again, we obviously can’t guarantee that there is a defibrillator at every single stadium all around the world. Still, we want to make people understand that it can save lives. We want to explain to and educate the member associations that this is absolutely vital.”