It is not unprecedented. Throughout history there have been sports players who suffered from multiple conditions who have "collapsed" on the field during practice and during live games. However, a recent article from the German newspaper, Berliner Zeitung has highlighted an "unusually large" increase in the number of these collapses recently, leading to much speculation.
The Free Thought Project looked in to how frequently players used to collapse or die during games. There are in fact several recorded collapses every year and even deaths. Doctors and experts usually attribute these to underlying conditions which have not been previously diagnosed. However, as Berliner Zeitung points out, the number of players who have collapsed in 2021 appears to be much higher than previous years.
In fact, if we look back over the last hundred years, 2021 appears to be the deadliest year on record for football players dying during gameplay. So far this year, 14 association footballers alone have died during gameplay. This is the highest amount of deaths by far, according to the chart listed here on Wikipedia.
While this number is high, when we zoom out and look at the list compiled by the German paper, these instances appear to be unusually large.
As Berliner Zeitung points out, emergency situations have come up again and again in the last few weeks and months:
- Game abandoned due to cardiac arrest of the referee in a game of Lauber SV (Donauwörth district)
- A 17-year-old soccer player from JSG Hoher Hagen has to be reanimated in Hannoversch Münden during the game.
- The Gifhorn amateur player Marvin Schumann has to be reanimated after a cardiac arrest.
- An assistant referee of a Kreisliga Augsburg game in Emersacker collapses with heart problems.
- A district league player of the SpVgg. Oelde II has to be revived by his opponent.
- A player from the Birati Club Münster collapses in a regional league game against FC Nordkirchen II.
- 17-year-old soccer player Dylan Rich dies of a heart attack during a game in England .
- The goalkeeping coach of SV Niederpöring suffers a heart attack after a training session.
- Lucas Surek (24) from the BFC Chemie Leipzig club is unable to attend due to suspicion of a heart muscle disorder .
- Kingsley Coman (25) from FC Bayern Munich has to undergo heart surgery after a cardiac arrhythmia .
- Trainer Dirk Splitsteser from SG Traktor Divitz collapses dead on the sidelines .
- Rune Coghe (18) of the Belgian club Eendracht Hoglede (Belgium) suffers a heart attack during a game.
- At the World Cup qualification match between Germany and Serbia in Chemnitz, an English line judge with heart problems has to be carried off the pitch.
- Team leader Dietmar Gladow from Thalheim (Bitterfeld) suffers a fatal heart attack before a game .
- The 53-year-old football coach Antonello Campus collapses while training with his youth team in Sicily .
- Anil Usta from VfB Schwelm (Ennepetal) collapses on the field with heart problems .
- Dimitri Liénard from FC Strasbourg collapses with heart problems in a Ligue 1 game .
- ASPTT Caen's Diego Ferchaud (16) suffers cardiac arrest in a U-18 league game in Saint-Lô .
- Belgian soccer player Jente Van Genechten (25) suffers cardiac arrest in the early stages of a cup game.
- The Belgian amateur soccer player Jens De Smet (27) from Maldegem suddenly suffers a heart attack during the game and dies a little later in hospital.
- A 13-year-old soccer player from the Janus Nova club from Saccolongo (Italy) collapses on the field with cardiac arrest.
- Andrea Astolfi, the sports director of Calcio Orsago (Italy), suffers a heart attack after returning from training. He dies at the age of 45.
- Abou Ali (22) collapses with cardiac arrest during a two-tier game in Denmark .
- Fabrice N'Sakala (31) from Besiktas Istanbul collapses on the field without any action from the opponent and has to be taken to the hospital.
Exactly what is causing this increase in deaths and sudden collapses is unknown.
According to research by Dr. Yaffa Shir-Raz, there has been a “5-fold increase in sudden cardiac deaths of FIFA players in 2021.”
As Shir-Raz points out:
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This figure is found to be statistically significant. In fact, there is no other year since 2001 where the difference between the number of observed cases of SCD/SUD and the expected number is statistically significant. In 2021 it is highly statistically significant and only likely to happen by chance about 2 in 1,000 times.
The numbers are startling and yet no one appears to be looking into what's causing it. As no one looks into the reported increases in collapses and deaths, this week, yet another healthy young footballer collapsed during a game. Sheffield United midfielder John Fleck collapsed with no one around him during their game against Reading.
"I didn't see exactly what happened," Blades boss Slavisa Jokanovic told BBC Radio Sheffield. "One moment he fell down. It was a really complicated situation."
The game was subsequently stopped for 10 minutes as paramedics rendered live-saving aid to Fleck on the field.
"He is conscious in hospital and he asked for the result. We hope everything will be OK with him.
"It's not easy for the players to focus on the moment after. Fortunately, the team is fighting well and we weren't scared of our weaknesses. We were fighting for the three points."
"It's horrible whenever something like that happens on the pitch," goalscorer Bogle told BBC Radio Sheffield. "The main thing tonight is that he's OK and that he's stable.
"It happens so quickly. You don't expect it, you expect to play a normal football match. You don't really think about those things going into games."
After Fleck's collapse, former England and Southampton star and Sky News sports announcer Matt Le Tissier called for an immediate investigation.
Indeed, it seems rather odd that this isn't being reported on by more news outlets or being looked into by the respective health departments in these different countries.