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Nigerian footballers in need of proper medical care

By Gowon Akpodonor
15 March 2020   |   4:18 am
Footballers in most parts of the world are cherished assets, pampered and paid huge sums of money by their clubs.

Rescue ambulance in need of help.

Footballers in most parts of the world are cherished assets, pampered and paid huge sums of money by their clubs. These clubs also ensure that the players are in tip-top physical condition, with all their health needs paid priority attention because they are the reason clubs exist in the first place.

Clubs in Europe, the Americas and most part of Asia and even North Africa, have standard health facilities to cater for their players and only resort to public hospitals on special cases.

However, such is not the case in the Nigerian league, where most of the clubs don’t have functional medical department. There are exceptions though, but the recent death of a Nasarawa United defender, Chineme Martins, during a league match against Katsina United on Sunday, has brought to fore the sorry state of most of the Nigerian clubs.

More than anything else, the tragedy in Lafia has re-awakened calls for the managers of Nigerian football to find modern means of checking the health and fitness levels of players.

The 22-years old Martins slumped during the first half and died before he could be taken to hospital.

Many football stakeholders have blamed Martins’ death on ‘slow’ medical response to the emergency.
It came when Nigerian football was still morning the death of a defender of Remo Stars, Tiamiyu Kazeem, who was killed by a police officer of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad in Sagamu.

Over time, the Nigerian football league has witnessed cases of unfortunate incidents arising from inadequate security and poor medical standards.

The first high-profile death of a footballer on Nigeria soil happened on August 12, 1989, when Super Eagles dreadlock-wearing midfielder, Sam Okwaraji died in Lagos in a tense Italian ‘90 World Cup qualifying match between Nigeria and Angola at the National Stadium, Lagos.

Okwaraji collapsed and died of congestive heart failure in the 77th minute of match and was pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital. His death gripped Nigeria and left many football fans stunned for years.

Then, deaths on the soccer pitch were rare in Nigerian football. But for the first time, fans came to terms with the fact that the beautiful game called football could also be very ugly. It was a rude awakening to the entire nation.

Medical experts explained then that Okwaraji was killed by ‘cardiac arrest,’ a medical term millions of Nigerian soccer fans didn’t really understand at that time.

But the fans became convinced them that the physical exertions of football were terminal enough to kill a player.

With the death of Okwaraji still fresh on the mind of many Nigerians, the nation was hit with another football tragedy, this time a dogged forward, Amir Angwe.

Angwe, wearing the blue colours of Julius Berger FC of Lagos, became the first casualty in the domestic league when he mysteriously passed out in a match involving The Bridge Boys’ at the Onikan Stadium on October 29, 1995.

Julius Berger team officials later claimed that Angwe, a former striker of BCC Lions of Gboko was as fit as fiddle before he was selected to play the game. It was the same reason given by the Super Eagles’ medical team for Okwaraji death.

Then, it happened again. Exactly two years later, Charity Ikhidero, a former Bendel Insurance player, also collapsed suddenly in a league game.

His death on the pitch got many people talking, but as the attitude with Nigerians, the brouhaha about Ikhidero’s death only lasted for a while. It soon dissolved with the wind.

Since then, a sizeable chunk of able-bodied talents and stars of tomorrow have been cut down in their prime in the line of duty.

A Warri Wolves’ goalkeeper, Orobosa Adun, also died after being passed fit for match he should not have played following the attack on him by fans of Rangers International FC of Enugu. That was on May 26, 2009.

Another player, John Ikoroma, also died while featuring in the Nigerian domestic league, just as Emma Ogoli, an Ocean Boys defender died in a match involving his team and Niger Tornadoes in Yenagoa,

The death of the Nasarawa United defender on Sunday has left an unpleasant taste on the Nigerian Professional Football League (NPFL). Many stakeholders and followers have described it as one death too many.

To prevent a future occurrence, Sports Minister Sunday Dare, who described the death of Martins as “regrettable and avoidable,” directed that no game should be played henceforth without the presence of paramedic personnel and equipment at match venues.

This decision was taken after due consultations and calls to relevant stakeholders by the Minister.

A statement from the Office of the Sports Minister said: “Henceforth, from March 14, 2020, no league match would take place without paramedics personnel and necessary equipment as provided for in the NFF Club licensing Regulations. This decision was reached to ensure prompt response in the event of any incident during matches.

“We don’t want any avoidable deaths in our match venues or any other sports for that matter.”

Under the arrangement, all match commissioners, host State FAs are to inspect all medical facilities at match venues, test run to confirm that they are working before the commencement of any league game.

On its part, the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) also announced that no match should go ahead in the premier league if proper medical facilities were not in place at the stadium.

The NFF directed the various clubs to ensure there is a full complement of medical equipment, and personnel at all match venues. It also appointed a 12-man committee, headed by former board member, Dr. Peter Singabele, a medical doctor, to investigate Martins’ death and proffer ways of avoiding such fatal incidents in the game.

The committee is mandated to investigate the medical, security and administrative lapses which led to the untimely demise of the defender, who slumped during a match between his club and Katsina United at the Lafia City Stadium on Sunday and gave up the ghost before he was taken to hospital.

However, some stakeholders believe the solution to the careless deaths on Nigerian pitches lie beyond setting up committees. They argue that recommendations of past committees have not been implemented, adding that corrupt officials are allowed to pollute the system such that cases like that of Martins’ keep recurring.

According to Dr. Adebukola Bajuwoye, a sports medicine expert attached to the national rugby football team, most NPFL clubs lack sports medicine doctors because enough funds are not invested in the medical welfare of players.

Bajuwoye said that if Nigerian clubs gave much priority to players’ health, they would have better chances of surviving certain unforeseen incidents like the one that killed Martins.

The late Chineme Martins slumped and died at the Lafia Township Stadium during a match between Nasarawa United and Katsina United…last weekend.

He advised the LMC to ensure that a medical assessor, who should be a medical doctor specialized in sports medicine, is present in every league venue to inspect facilities on ground a day before the kick off of every league game.

“In other advanced countries, the best doctors are recruited to take care of their players with quality facilities. Death sometimes can be avoidable when a player collapses on the pitch.

“The English player, Fabrice Muamba survived a heart attack on the pitch because there were standard medical facilities in the stadium manned by well-trained personnel.

“A match commissioner is not professionally qualified to inspect health facilities at the stadium. That is the job of a medical practitioner,” he said.

He also recommended random test of players to ensure that they did not indulge in negative lifestyles.

“Some of these players take drugs to boost their sex performance, some drink and smoke a lot, take drugs to enhance their performance on the pitch and also don’t eat the right food. All these affect the entire system of the players.

“That is why it is important for clubs to do normal routine check up on their players every season. They should also monitor their health status before and after every game. This must be done by a qualified doctors.”

To Enugu Rangers’ Team Manager, Amobi Ezeaku, a sports lawyer, Martins’ demise should be a wakeup call to clubs and all stakeholders.

In an article published by ACL, an online medium, Ezeaku affirmed it was clear
from the trending video clip that both teams had no doctor on ground at the time of the sad incident.

“I have attended over 100 match coordinating/pre-match meetings in the Nigeria Professional Football League. During these meetings, questions are asked as to the availability of doctors, ambulances, stretchers etc.

“Most times the answers are in the affirmative. Some will say they have one doctor, which turns out to be blatant falsehood. Some others would say they would rely on the State Football Association’s doctor. It springs up great surprise anytime such is the case because the Team Doctor should be personal to the team.”

He alleged that no Nigerian club could provide weekly medical reports showing the medical status of their players.

“The only time NPFL clubs carry out thorough medical checks is before the beginning of the season because such is a club licensing requirement. But after registration and licensing we go to sleep.

“Now that we have a sad case on our hands, we all have to embrace the truth and strive to be more, to do more not only in the field of medicine in sports but also in safety and security.”

Drawing from his club, Enugu Rangers example, Ezeaku said, “We have already started a campaign for periodic checkup of football players, as well as enlightenment on the stadium safety and security in Enugu and we hope that in the coming days our message would spread to other football clubs in the Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL).

Former Super Eagles star, Mike Onyemachara believes deaths on the pitch could be curtailed if the clubs and the LMC took time to train medical personnel on the peculiarities in football.

He noted that most clubs in Nigeria no longer have functional clinics and facilities to cater for their players, adding that everything is blamed on the poor economy.

“I remember my First Bank and ACB days when we had pure professionals managing the clubs. We had adequate facilities, which was supported by an arrangement with a quality hospital.

“We did not resort to quacks and chemists to treat any ailment, no matter how minor. But these days, some players are moving pharmacies. They drink all sorts of drugs to ‘build energy and help their game.’ They end up damaging their lives. They don’t know better.

“It would be in the interest of the game for a proper autopsy to be done on Martins with the result made public. That way, we will know the real cause of death and how to avoid future occurrences.

“I hope the boy is insured because some of our clubs don’t take insuring their players very serious. It would be unfortunate if the young man died without insurance cover.”

Matches of the NPFL continue this weekend across the country. 23 rounds of matches have been played in the 20-team championship with Plateau United leading the standings with 43 points.