Fabrice Muamba was at the Home of FIFA on 20 November 2012 for an informal meeting with FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter and FIFA’s Chief Medical Officer, Professor Jiri Dvorak. The 24-year-old was accompanied by Jonathan Tobin and Phil Gartside – the respective team doctor and chairman of Bolton Wanderers – the club the former midfielder was representing when he suffered a sudden cardiac arrest on 17 March. Muamba, President Blatter and Professor Dvorak discussed the incident and what can be done to help in similar situations in the future.
“Fabrice, it’s so nice to see you here in Zurich”, President Blatter said, hugging Muamba upon his arrival at the Home of FIFA. “I’m delighted to see you in good shape, and happy to be able to chat with you and see how you can use your experience for the future.”
Professor Dvorak gave a bit of background information to Muamba on FIFA’s activities in terms of sudden cardiac death (SCD), explaining that “the death of Marc-Vivien Foé of a sudden cardiac arrest, in 2003 during the FIFA Confederations Cup in Lyon, was a shock. It is from that moment that we took some measures to protect the players.”
“With you, we had a happy ending, which is a great story of course. This is the reason why we produced a video, which we showed at the FIFA Congress. Following this, the FIFA President proposed that we give one AED (automated external defibrillator) for each FIFA Member Association. This action, approved by the FIFA Congress, is now in process.”
The group then watched the aforementioned video, which explained how Muamba was saved and included comments from his team-mates and Howard Webb, who refereed that now-famous game between Bolton and Tottenham Hotspur.
The Congo DR-born former England U-21 international had never seen the video, and he simply couldn’t take his eyes off the screen as it played.
“I’ve realised afterwards that football is not only on the pitch but around it too, and that there are some people doing an amazing job,” Muamba said. “In my case, it was the medical staff. And I think that whole situation emphasized the fact everybody should be trained to use this machine.”
Tobin, who was on the pitch that day and played a crucial role in saving Muamba, added: “Two things are key in such situations: having an AED on site and having people who know how to use it. This does not seem a lot, but actually it requires a good deal of organisation and this is where FIFA can certainly help in the future.”
The doctor also explained why the AED is such an important tool in situations of great emergency. “In the heat of panic, even trained people can lose control,” he said. “And this is also why these AEDs are very good, because as soon as you open them, you have some very clear guidelines on what to do. I can tell you that day, once the AED was open, things began to look up."
Despite recovering, Muamba was forced to retire from playing football, though he has refused to let that get him down: “My father always told me, ‘Studies first, football after’, and I always followed that route, which I think is good. But I couldn’t finish university when I started to play professionally, so maybe now it’s time for me!”, he said with a smile. “One thing for sure is that I want to learn different aspects of the game. Of course, after such an experience, you believe anything is possible.”
Dvorak believes some good can come of the incident: “Somehow this event raised awareness of the issue across the world. And I think Fabrice could still play a role in this domain with FIFA.” Muamba responded in a very positive way: “Football brings people together, it connects people, and it certainly can make the world a better place and even save some lives. And of course I’m interested in participating in this”.
President Blatter then concluded in the same vein: “We can’t change the world, but we can offer a better place through football – that is very true. The essence of football is to give people emotions and hope. We are trying to contribute to this every day, and I’m sure Fabrice can help us a lot.”