The concerns regarding player safety

THE incident at Chennai's Nehru Stadium last week when Yuraj Pun of the Bengal-Mumbai football club lay breathless in the dressing room fighting for life, was yet another reminder of the dangers that lurk in football grounds.

THE incident at Chennai's Nehru Stadium last week when Yuraj Pun of the Bengal-Mumbai football club lay breathless in the dressing room fighting for life, was yet another reminder of the dangers that lurk in football grounds. Yuraj Pun's discomfiture did not come on the field but in the confines of the dressing room, cooling off as he was after an energy-sapping match. Minutes before, he had collided with Indian Bank's Anandavasan during the match. What is significant is the emergency came when few people were around.

It was providence perhaps that the rival team had a doctor at the ground. Further an official of the local Association who had a vehicle too was in the stadium premises. As the doctor was to note, by the time the panic-stricken team members could reach him, the player was not only unconscious but also his pulse rate was dropping alarmingly. Immediate attention by him and a quick transportation to hospital saved the situation.

The episode once again highlighted the importance of medical facilities at playing venues. Now here was a case where an ambulance was in attendance all through the match but as it happened, Yuraj's experience underlined there is need for a mechanism to meet post-match eventualities. Experts believe there has to be a makeshift hospital in the stadium complex to treat emergencies. In Yuraj's case, the medical report suggested that the player suffered from extreme exhaustion and dehydration, conditions brought about by playing in hot and humid conditions.

There is the other side of the story too. Yuraj had joined the team late and straightaway plunged into competition without quite getting acclimatised to the extreme weather conditions or showing concern for fitness. How the team allowed him to take part is another question. Nonetheless his unwise step brings to fore the other aspect of modern day team management — that of the need of a physiologist in the side. This aspect gets stressed at every available forum and workshops of sports medicine experts. But if the composition of even the elite clubs in the country is examined then there is much left to be desired.

Indeed at a time in modern day football where every aspect of a player's muscle and physical attributes are put to scientific tests, India has much to catch up with. But still there are areas where steps could be taken to ensure avoidable calamities. In the current instance one aspect that cannot be overlooked is the timing of the competition (read the national football league second division) in the peak of summer when it is well known that most parts of the country reel under a hot spell. This is not the first time that it has happened.

A couple of years ago, the same competition was held in Bhopal where the temperatures were in the mid-forties! It is a different matter that matches were completed without a medical emergency. But is that a certificate for continuing this practice? To go a little further it would do a world of good if the parent body makes it mandatory that no football activities should take place anywhere in the country at least during the peak of summer unless the event is played under floodlights. They do that in Europe where of course the football action stops during extreme winter.

Football in India has never had a proper calendar for a long time. In recent times though, with the cancellation of several top-notch tournaments, including a few renowned international fixtures, the AIFF has been able to find things more comfortable. To that extent the NFL second division could easily have been planned in the early part of the year, when weather conditions are more favourable. Not only will that help in improving the standards of the competition but encourage talent to flower on the right lines.

While on facilities it is ironic that the importance of floodlights is never stressed upon. Most stadia across the country sport basic floodlighting facility and yet their use has been few and far between. More often than not, as in Chennai, the floodlighting towers are mere symbols of modernity. Prohibitive costs are one explanation for non-use but this is where the AIFF should sit with the state units concerned to find a way out. After all when crores of rupees come into the game, there must be a way for subsidising or better still, writing off the total cost involved in the use of floodlights. At a time when even the Asian body feels every step needs to be taken to popularise and develop the game, this fact about making available the best facility for football should not be lost sight of.

Of immediate concern to the AIFF must be the safety of the players. Standardising medical facilities and medical insurance are aspects that have to be given thought to. How serious the AIFF is in all this will underline its concern for players' welfare.