Unanswered questions remain following Christian Eriksen’s collapse

I was covering the Denmark versus Finland match because, well, I had to.

Naturally, I was hoping Finland would upset the Lego cart and help Russia a small bit in the group. Then it happened. That moment the play moved away following the throw-in, I kept watching him. And then he fell.

He fell like a man I saw five years ago in Domodedovo Airport, while waiting for a flight to Chisinau. It was a scorching summer evening and he went down face first onto the tiled floor. I assisted with CPR before the medics arrived, who gave him injections and tried to revive him. The man’s son was in shock. Andrei died on the airport floor. He was 64-years-old, a smoker and with underlying health issues. Not a fit, young athlete like Christian Eriksen.

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Get the message out quick

The positive response in the aftermath was overwhelming. The fact that they had a defibrillator at hand in the stadium and were able to apply it within seconds was celebrated.

The fact that Simon Kjaer reacted so quickly and along with the medical staff were able to apply CPR was tremendous. The response to Uefa’s ultimatum to restart the game was widely criticised across the sport and beyond. The images of fans across Europe chanting his name, Romelu Lukaku screaming his friend’s name into the camera were all shared and enjoyed.

Even local clubs using the moment to educate members and communities on CPR, defibrillator locations and highlight the need to be aware of such incidents could well save a life in the future.

But how do we protect the athletes? We need better screening! We need to find out if they have any illness or underlying medical issues! Fast forward to Denmark’s battering of Russia in the final group game, following defeats to Finland and Belgium, and commentators couldn’t believe their eyes at the Danish dynamite. 

“They seem to be able to run forever”. “They’re full of running, even on 90 minutes”. “They were just too fit, too strong, too good for Russia.”

Those were a selection of clips from TSN’s coverage. We’ve heard the same for any of the big teams; Holland, France, Italy and Germany. Any team who seems to have boundless energy over and over again, even at the end of a long season. Players have been free from actual drug testing since 2020. We need to check our sport before we further wreck the health of fit young athletes.

But the main narrative was achieved. Nobody asked the question, anywhere in media, not once – other than on the spot theories like genetics, viral issues or even heatstroke by media members and misfortunate commentators who had to narrate the minutes when the cameras wouldn’t look away.

Nobody asked the question: why would a young, healthy athlete’s heart suddenly stop?

Ticking time bomb

Five years ago I wrote about the increasing number of heart issues amongst footballers and how we need to take a long hard look at what we want for the game. Back then we were in the midst of the meldonium meltdown. I was working in sports nutrition and biotech and looking at the sports support sector with new eyes.

I’d been an unwitting idiot in passing along meldonium, long before it was banned, to a tennis client of mine and didn’t consider what it would do. It was an over the counter drug to help with “immunity”. It was called a prophylactic. I had no idea that it was a gym rat’s drug of choice for a really good workout.

Last week, I discussed such issues and Christian Eriksen’s incident with a former Soviet Olympic champion. He’d taken meldonium, though felt he had almost gone cold turkey when he left the sport. As a trainer, he’d forbidden athletes from touching it and as director of an Olympic sports college in his home region, he went to great lengths to lecture students each year on staying clean and away from drugs. I asked him, did it work? Vladimir Krylov answered, “who knows, I just hope they have brains and want to be healthy.”

What happened with Christian Eriksen is exactly why Liverpool didn’t win the Premier League last season, who were clever and eased off. Christian, the leader of the Danish team, had to push on. His club, Inter Milan, had just prevented the Mapei-powered Juventus from doing a 10-in-a-row, his national side were going to be neck in neck with Belgium to top their finals group. He couldn’t rest, he had to push and push and push. We know where this is going.

Last year, as we were shutting down due to covid, I predicted what was going to happen with football (and sports). We see in athletics those couch potatoes who were not allowed to train and therefore be tested, crush records as soon as meetings resumed. Not just crushing them, but wiping them out.

We had a young player drop dead in Moscow while training at home and even if it was simply overtraining, we have an issue right there. Again, nobody has brought this up.

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Profit over principle?

Following up on earlier articles, I asked this year if we could trust anything we were being told to believe from the media.

We as consumers (that’s what we are, not fans, supporters or stakeholders) of sports action don’t really care what happens to our heroes and heroines. We want medals. We want goals. We want knockouts.

Media companies, sponsors, consumers, players, coaches, apparatchiks, they all want cash. Look at how quickly the story blow up when Cristiano Ronaldo moved a brown fizzy drink bottle. Only for his old adverts, for the same company, to go viral days later. Nobody smelled the bullshit at the time?

But back to Christian. I hope he recovers, I really hope he does. He is a dad of two (like me) and with what he has earned, he should have a decent post-football life. He might do well to have a look at his own product line though. One that seems harmless on the surface, but the contents of which has direct links to issues and events like the very one he suffered.

State Energy drink has enough caffeine, taurine and other goodies that will give you sleepless nights, literally. His funding and promotion of a caffeine packed energy drink and his heart attack don’t seem to merit any mention for talking heads in the media world.

We’ve already moved on. Denmark won, next up are England and I’m sure we’re all entertained.

We’ll just weep isotonic tears when the next young, healthy footballer falls face first to the turf.

The Author

Alan Moore

Russian based sports journalist and consultant, working with major clubs including Hajduk Split, Eintracht Frankfurt, Lokomotiv and Spartak Moscow. Current host of Capital Sports FM in Moscow, former international boxer and semi-professional footballer and commentated at the FIFA World Cup 2018.

One thought on “Unanswered questions remain following Christian Eriksen’s collapse

  1. Alan, how often do we see this happening? A few times every few years out of thousands of games. A freak accident likely is related to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy that is very hard to pick up unless the screening is extensive using specialist echocardiogram and cardiopulmonary exercise testing.

    Can all teams do this? Maybe. Do all players want to? Should that be asked?

    What we can say is that every extreme end of athleticism is not healthy. Most endurance athletes have one or two big wins before they cannot withstand the training and further, and it’s often seen that those have some form of myocardial scarring.

    One suggested reason that is more complex to assess is breathing during exercise. There are hypothesis that mouth breathing may result in a shift in oxygen away from the heart, and that can be seen when ventilation becomes excessive at high intensity. Nasal breathing however, seems to cause an adaption where ventiation is less and this may reduce this risk. An uncommon answer to the said situation.

    Anyways pushing the human limits is risk and perhaps we need to see further monitoring in athletes stress but exercise physiologists are employed to help push the boundaries and not focus on health, which is more of a clinical role often ignored in sports, until this happens which again is once in a Blue Moon.

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