The Cristiano incident

SOME things never change in Indian sport administration. The reactive nature of policy-making in sport in the country, as opposed to prescriptive models in a lot of other countries which are top draw in sport, came to the fore following the demise of Dempo's Brazilian striker Cristiano Junior during the final of the Federation Cup tournament in Bangalore.

SOME things never change in Indian sport administration. The reactive nature of policy-making in sport in the country, as opposed to prescriptive models in a lot of other countries which are top draw in sport, came to the fore following the demise of Dempo's Brazilian striker Cristiano Junior during the final of the Federation Cup tournament in Bangalore.

The mud-slinging that went on between the Dempo SC authorities on one hand and the All India Football Federation (AIFF) and Karnataka State Football Association (KSFA) authorities on the other about the lack of proper medical attention to Cristiano on the ground deflected one's attention from the larger picture. (Dempo blamed the KSFA of not arranging for a doctor and medical team on the spot and KSFA shot back saying that being a leading professional club Dempo should have had its own medical team attending to Cristiano.)

Sadly, people in the corridors of power did not talk about the need to bring structural changes that would help in preventing more such incidents. Any enquiry into the death of Cristiano should touch upon these areas, in addition to punishing any action of neglect that might have caused Cristiano's death.

On-field death of players, caused by cardiac failure, has plagued world football in the last decade. But, the small matter of recompense from these tragic events have been that debates which have followed these tragedies have been extremely meaningful and aimed towards effecting changes to prevent such incidents.

In Brazil, the death of Serginho a few months ago due to cardiomyopathy (irregular heart-beats), resulted in the Brazilian Players Association demanding more health care and less exploitation from their clubs, including cutting down the number of matches in a season.

It must be recalled that Brazilian newspapers had got wind of the fact that Serginho was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy in a hospital eight months before his death and that the management of his club, Sao Caetano, had been made aware of this.

The death of midfielder Marc-Viviene Foe in Lyon in June 2003 while playing for Cameroon against Colombia in the Confederations Cup sent his club Manchester City scurrying to re-examine his medical report in the beginning of the 2002-03 season to find out whether any heart disorder at the time of his signing might have been missed.

Manchester City was forced to take the action on the advice of the Professional Football Association (PFA), which a recent research identified as the strongest functioning trade union in the UK. Foe's death was caused by the Sudden Adult Death Syndrome (SADS), a disorder of the electrical system of the heart where the heartbeat races without warning.

Players at all levels of English football have to undergo annual cardiac screening now. If in the Premiership and the first division, clubs are rich enough to afford it, in the lower divisions as well as in non-league football the service is made available through the PFA's tie-up with charity Cardiac Risk in the Young (CRY), which gets infrastructural help from the National Health Service (NHS).

English football had lost three teenagers — Daniel Yorath, Ian Bell and John Marshall — on the field in the 1990s due to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) or the pathological enlargement of the heart muscle. The PFA-CRY intervention was also the direct result of research from Italy — where all junior sportsmen and sportswomen had compulsory annual cardiac tests — which showed that incidence of cardiac trouble in athletes was lowest in that country.

If the AIFF can legitimately argue that the English example will not be cost effective when applied to football in India — a poorly-funded game in a developing country — it could at least take note of the importance of tie-ups with leading cardiac centres of the country at reduced prices to screen players at the junior level in exchange for advertising facilities in the grounds.

To the credit of the AIFF, it must be said that the recent move to amend the constitution to have a paid secretary is a step in the right direction. However, this is only the first step towards professionalisation — a lot more of experts have to be appointed in vital areas such as development, law, finance, health care and HR to name a few.

Players in India should also think about making their docile association pro-active. Affiliation to FIFPro, the international players association recognised by FIFA, and getting a representative in the AIFF executive should be high on the agenda of the players union. Nothing would keep Cristiano Junior's memories alive in India than a strong players association.