Wednesday, 25 April 2012


 Sport is one of the best expressions of human capacity and failings. Or like famous Greek philosopher, Plato (above)  once wrote: “You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.”

Last weekend Italian footballer, Piermario Morosini (pictured below) collapsed on the pitch and died. 

Praised by his team mates at Livorno club, Morosini was a remarkable athlete. Although he was orphaned at 17 (plus a disabled brother who committed suicide) the mid-fielder had a “burning zeal” to succeed. Aged only 25, both parents dead plus two disabled siblings to take care of? That is a lot of stress. 25 years is, however, too early for death; there is a tendency for younger people- especially males to experience heart attacks in our times. <--more--!>

Early this week, Congolese born footballer, Fabrice Muamba was discharged from London’s chest hospital after collapsing during a game between Tottenham and Bolton Wanderers. The cheerful smiling sportsman- who like Morosini- was loved by his football mates and fans had a “momentary death” after his heart stopped for 78 minutes on March 17th. He was given 15 electric shocks –“two on the pitch, one in the tunnel, 12 in the ambulance” (according to Sky News) before his heart kicked again.
Muamba is just 24.
 Collapse of Muamba in March 2012 (Pic by AFP)
Statistically, footballers falling and dying on the pitch is nothing new. Problem is numbers seem to be growing. A quick glance through the past 100 years tells us in the whole of the 1920’s (decade)  five players died on the pitch while  in 1930’s were four- an era leading to the second world war (and beset with economic  and political stress). Just one player died in the whole of the 1950’s- and it was due to stomach troubles rather than the heart. Two died in the 1960’s – one struck by lightning.
 During the 1970’s and 1980’s the average is four players in ten years. However, from 1990 onwards the mushrooming in fatalities is pretty scary. While in the 1990’s we see an average of 2 players annually- from 2000 figures have multiplied. In 2000 alone were 6 deaths- from across the world- i.e. Middle East, Europe, Latin America, Asia and Africa.
 Cameroon's mid-fielder- Marc Vivien- Foe- collapses and dies on the pitch in France 2003. Pic by Welt Fussball

In 2002 were four more deaths- then the infamous 2003 tragedy of Cameroonian mid-fielder Marc Vivien-Foe during the FIFA Confederation semi final against Colombia in France.  Since then numbers continue to rise- at an average of four per year- (not per decade as previously). 2012 so far has seen two deaths- while Muamba escaped miraculously because doctors and first class treatment was instantly at hand. Causes of these sudden deaths are generally head and body collisions but mostly heart attacks.
This could be an exaggerated account due to the fact that records are more thorough whereas seven decades back- documentation especially in poorer countries- was non-existent. That could be a reasonable argument. Nonetheless, we have to look at what is happening from a different angle. Cause of sudden death eighty to hundred years ago was recorded as tetanus, stomach, bowel troubles and lightning- these days cardiac arrest is most common.

Traditionally heart attacks have always been attributed to older people- yet now we are witnessing an increase in youths- who seem to have more pressure than before.
 Expectations of achievement, family and economic fulfillment were less strenuous in the old days –while in the 21st century constant bombardment of celebrity culture, millionaire athletes and superstars is creating a strong anxiety among the young. No wonder some of the famous names in European football league do not deliver. Take Fernando Torres (Spain) or Michael Owen (England) - young strikers who were so hyped that they flopped after being sold at multimillion fees. Young people are pressured to win, by lifting heavy weights so as to develop well, chiseled bodies. Some do not even know how to use these devices appropriately and are thus straining themselves. In the quest to have muscles and six pack torsos- most are over doing it and endangering their health. Over training killed the legendary martial artist and actor, Bruce Lee in 1973. He was only 32.
 Tough guy - Bruce Lee- worked really hard- he was a pioneer whose work has had a major impact on various aspects of modern culture and sports.
Calling anxiety and stress a “bag of nerves” this week’s London’s Sunday Times advised on measures to handle the problem by doing massage therapy and meditation. I was talking to a young Tanzanian who recently moved to an overseas country to find better employment. He lamented how he wakes up at 5 am then drives a truck- non stop till 6 in the evening.
“Every day?” I wondered.
“Yes. Except Sundays. And my wife is pregnant. I need money to be ready for our baby.”
It is one thing working hard to make a living and another to live under constant, intense pressure. Young people need to learn to maintain balance between working hard, living fast and knowing how to slow down and relax.   

Also published in Citizen Tanzania- 20th April,2012....

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