Why have there been so many medical emergencies at football matches?

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Since the start of this football season, fans have been concerned about an apparent increase in the number of medical emergencies occurring during matches.

Perhaps inevitably, there has been a lot of speculation as to what caused these emergencies, and why there seem to have been so many more of them this season than before. This has led to some misinformation around the subject.

So what do we know about why there have been so many medical emergencies in recent football matches – and what do the relevant rules tell us?

Why have there been so many medical emergencies at football matches?

This season, there have been several medical emergencies at football matches. Some games were delayed for long periods while distressed fans were treated.

There has been more sensitivity surrounding the issue of medical emergencies at football matches since Christian Eriksen suffered cardiac arrest while playing for Denmark last summer. Eriksen has since resumed his career with Premier League newcomers Brentford.

But since the resumption of the domestic football season, there have been several stoppages of football matches due to medical emergencies involving spectators rather than players.

This has led anti-vaxxers online to claim there is a link between the apparent increase in medical emergencies and coronavirus vaccines.

However, Reuters Fact Check reports that Fifa – football’s international governing body – has seen no increase in the number of footballers facing medical emergencies while playing.

“FIFA is not aware of an increase in episodes of cardiac arrests as indicated in your email and there have been no reported cases of people receiving a COVID vaccine,” he said.

Similarly, Fifa has refuted claims circulated online that 108 footballers died in a six-month period in 2021, saying the claim is not based on facts.

According to the UK Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), there is no evidence that Covid vaccines are linked to heart problems in footballers.

Instead, other factors are more likely to explain the apparent increase in the number of medical emergencies occurring during football games.

Firstly, football authorities, clubs and fans are more aware of medical emergencies during matches. As a result, matches are more likely to be interrupted while emergencies are ongoing and treatment is administered.

In addition, the demographics of people attending football matches may mean that some fans are at higher risk of health problems, as an increasing proportion of football fans are older.

Additionally, many fans experience a high degree of stress while watching football – which could put them at risk of heart attack or stroke, says Joe Freeman, consultant in anesthesia and critical care at Freeman Hospital. of Newcastle.

“We have always treated some seriously ill people in football, but what seems to be becoming evident this season, across matches at several different clubs, is that the general health of ill spectators seems to be worse, and it may be that they have physically and physiologically deconditioned by various confinements”, he wrote in an article for the Football Supporters’ Association.

He added: “It would be a foolhardy person to tie it all down to one thing, but it’s clear there are probably a number of factors coming together that could increase the risk of acute illness in the stressful arena. of a sports stadium.”

As we saw with Christian Eriksen, there is always the possibility that anyone – regardless of fitness level – could experience an emergency during a football game.

What do the rules say?

There have been no specific rule changes this season regarding medical emergencies at football matches. None of this season’s rule changes address the issue.

Referees are not specifically required by Football Association laws and rules to stop play when a medical emergency occurs off the field of play.

However, they are doing it more and more, as sensitivities change and people become more aware of the dangers of medical emergencies – like cardiac arrest – during football games.

So it seems we’re all just more aware of and concerned about medical emergencies off the field of play, and so it’s increasingly seen as inappropriate to allow play to continue while an emergency is in progress involving a spectator.

As a result, officials are more likely to halt proceedings while the emergency is being dealt with, leading to the recent increase in the number of medical stoppages during matches.

Indeed, there also seems to be a greater awareness of player welfare, and referees are now more likely to stop or even abandon games when a player is seriously injured.

Last weekend, for example, Kidderminster Harriers’ National League North draw with Alfreton Town was abandoned after Kidderminster defender Matt Preston suffered a double broken leg on the pitch.

UEFA, European football’s governing body, also specifically requires clubs to have defibrillators and other medical equipment on hand at European matches.

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