Some time halfway through last month, Bolton Wanderers player Fabrice Muamba collapsed during the first half of their FA Cup quarter final clash with Tottenham Hotspur. The world watched on apprehensively as the 24 year old lay motionless on the green grass of White Hart Lane and the situation became all too serious, all too suddenly and all too unexpectedly. His heart had reportedly stopped beating for a total of 78 minutes, which would usually leave the fittest of individuals without any hope of resuscitation. Luckily for Muamba, a fan watching the game from the lowest tier of the stadium was a cardiologist and the unsung hero was able to get to the scene of Muamba’s collapse in less than a minute. Had it not been for this fact, many medical professionals believe that Fabrice Muamba would have taken his last breaths on that cold evening in March.
The player has now actually been discharged from hospital as of the 16th April and doctors believe that he will make a full recovery. However, the number of people in sport that are as fortunate as the Bolton midfielder are limited and such accidents don’t always end in a fairytale manner. Just recently Claire Squires, a runner of the 2012 London Marathon, died on the final stretch of the race after collapsing. Many will recall other famous deaths, which have occurred across the sporting spectrum.
• Sarah Burke, a Canadian freestyle skier who was injured during a training accident and later died in hospital.
• Cameroon International and Manchester City footballer Marc-Vivien Foé, who passed away in 2003 after suffering a suspected heart attack on the pitch in similar circumstances to Fabrice Muamba.
• Donald Campbell, who perished after attempting to break his own water-speed record in 1967.
• Ayrton Senna da Silva, the legendary Formula 1 driver who crashed to his death whilst leading the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix.
The list could go on and on and it could be concluded that actively participating in sport to an elite level does have inherent risks. But when is enough, enough in sport?
It should be remembered that death in sport is not nearly as common an occurrence as it was when sports were first emerging in the earliest human civilisations. The Romans for example, made a habit of killing members of their population for fun during the iconicly infamous Gladiator battles. Such deaths were merely for the entertainment of the crowd and of course the Roman Emperor, who sometimes had the honour of deciding the fate of surviving fighters in the grand amphitheatres of the time.
Obviously we cannot compare death in sport within our own modernised civilisation to that of the Ancient Romans with any real meaning, as the attitude towards life and death has evolved dramatically over millennia. Life is now treasured within our society and we go to great lengths attempting to preserve and save lives all over the world. That is why when a 24 year old man seemingly drops dead on a football field under the eyes of millions, the nation is rocked.
Something else that has evolved considerably over millennia; most notably over the past 150 years; is technology. It is because of this rapid increase in human understanding that we have been able to achieve some of the greatest things ever seen to man. The development of technology has allowed athletes in a sporting context to excel more wildly than ever perceived thinkable. One fantastic example of this beautiful relationship between sport and technology is the recent rise of arguably the most dangerous recreational activity on the planet; BASE-jumping. This basically involves jumping free fall from altitude tickling objects, such as ‘Buildings’, ‘Aerials’, ‘Span’ (Bridges) and ‘Earth’ or ‘BASE’ for short. Participants then have to release their parachute before landing ‘safely’ wherever they can. Not for the faint hearted then, it’s estimated that one person dies every sixty jumps, which is probably the reason why it’s illegalised in some countries. So where is the incentive? In an activity which is so likely to bring about death, how does one find the motivation and courage to participate?
‘Check out the breathtaking sport of ‘wing suit BASE-jumping’ here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oaMTSOI1Zk4′
The answer is simple, to do something spectacular. Humans have an innate drive to constantly take things to the next level and to better themselves in every department. We are a dynamic species who cannot help but climb to the next branch of the never-ending tree of achievement, despite the potential risk of falling. Sport is an arena in which we can exercise this natural curiosity and endeavour, bringing about some truly fantastic results. The one thing that connects the likes of Fabrice Muamba, Marc-Vivien Foé, Senna, Donald Campbell, Sarah Burke and many others, is that they were attempting to be the best that they could be, whilst achieving immense heights of sporting prowess. This human ability is something that should celebrated and encouraged. We should be remembering these pioneers for their awesome achievements during their all too short careers, as opposed to the circumstances in which they passed away.
The harsh reality is however, that sportspeople do die on a regular basis whilst competing or training. This may be a heavy price to pay in the pursuit of human accomplishment but as technology continues to improve, the amount of fatalities in sport will continue to reduce. The case of Fabrice Muamba is a brilliant example of this and the medical staff who treated him deserve every accolade that the world possesses.
At the end of the day, you could have a heart attack whilst playing chess and I for one, would rather be BASE-jumping if this was to be my fate. Humans will always climb to the next branch, whether it is in the realm of sport, physics, spaceflight or any other discipline of human enterprise. All that we can do is ensure that there is a safety mat at the bottom of the tree in case they fall.