Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Football grieves

This past Thursday, local football and sport in general woke up to the tragic news of the passing of a 15-year-old Mexican Girls Football Club player.

The player, who had been with the team for only two weeks passed on after collapsing during training. She was certified dead upon arrival in hospital. Tragic as the death may be, it was a painful reminder of the constant risks our local athletes play under.

According to director of Mexican Girls F.C, Oaitse Moeti the cause of death is yet to be known and medical investigations are still ongoing. Moeti said the Moshupa born player, a form 2 student at Gaborone West Junior Secondary school, passed away at Julia Molefe Clinic in Block 9 a few hours upon arrival.

“We cannot disclose the name of the player as of yet, but she had just joined our team two weeks back under our developing team. She was in the extreme early stages of joining us hence making it early to identify if the player had any underlying issues,” Moeti said.

The tragic passing of the teenager will also open the wounds of similar events in the past. It will be a reminder of the untimely passing of footballers Gofaone ‘Sbidha’ Tiro and Leatile Setabosigo as well as 400m national team athlete Omphemetse Mokgadi. The trio collapsed and later died while on training at various times since 2017.

The truth is death is inevitable. It is an ever present and constant eventuality which no one, even with the best resources at his or her exposal can avoid. Unavoidable as death may be, this does not mean the risks of death cannot be mitigated, more especially when it comes with known exposure. Recent history has shown death in sport can be reduced or sometimes avoided.

A timely detection, as in the case of former Orapa United midfielder Patrick Motsepe can save lives. A couple of years ago, the player had to hang his boots after a heart defect was detected during routine medical check-up. Luckily for Motsepe, his team Orapa United had the resources to undertake such medical check-ups.

For countless other teams however, the resources are scant or even non-existent. Where teams are willing to do it, the prices are prohibitive. This makes it difficult for clubs to have medical aid for players, even if they are willing to do such.

“Since football or any sport in Botswana is considered professional when teams gain sponsorship, they usually place a certain amount on the table to hospitals, medical aids or insurance companies. Only this way and a club can be given insurance in case of injury or medical assistance,” Moeti said. 

To help teams, Footballers Union of Botswana (FUB) and the Botswana Football League (BFL) recently signed an agreement seeking to improve the overall welfare of players. Among the issues raised, the treaty seeks to address are players’ health insurance, pension, and welfare funds.

During the conference, BFL acknowledged that it has been difficult for clubs to provide players with health insurance hence why they took the decision to take on the responsibility of providing one. “The life of a football player is surrounded by injuries which is why we saw it fit to deal with this issue,” said Nicholas Zakhem.

While the said agreement will be welcome, unfortunately, it will not cover amateur players to women football league clubs. If not attended to, this will leave a window of opportunity for more tragic cases.

Commenting on the issue, Sports commentator City Keagakwa said the deaths in sport are rising like veld fire. He however said the problem is compounded by the fact that even with proper medical check-ups, it would not be easy to identify a person who may fall victim.

“In amateur level you may find that there is no emphasis on player’s health and medical checks not that teams do not want to but you find that the exercise is expensive for them.  Maybe its high time the BFA, Clubs and the Government collaborate to at least give athletes in remote areas and at amateur level access to proper medical health,” he added.

While medical check-ups are not bullet proof, they can go a long way in early detection of risk and tragedies will be avoided. With this, Keagakwa believes the association should take a lead and ensure medical check-ups are taken seriously.

Reached for comment, Botswana Football Association (BFA) chief executive officer Mfolo Mfolo said the association had noted the press release from Mexican Girls pertaining to the collapse and death of their player.

While expressing sadness on the issue, he said it now called for the association to re-look into the matter of medical welfare of players at amateur level and do something about it. In the meantime, Mfolo urged amateur clubs to use government free hospitals in case of an emergency including health checks. He said they should also use the government hospitals to conduct screening for all players.

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