2021 has seen numerous cardiac-related health scares, collapses and a handful of deaths among professional soccer players. Over the span of one week in December, three professional soccer players died after in-game or training related medical emergencies.
Most recently, 30-year-old Sofiane Loukar suffered a heart attack and died after colliding with his goalkeeper during a game in Algerian soccer’s second division. After being cleared to play, Loukar collapsed ten minutes later and was rushed to the hospital.
He was later pronounced dead and is reported to have suffered a heart attack, according to Reuters.
Loukar’s tragic death came just days after the death of 23-year-old Marin Cacic, who died three days after slipping into a coma. Cacic collapsed during training with his Croatian club NK Nehaj Sinj.
In yet another recent tragedy, Omani footballer Mukhaled Al-Raqadi died at the age of 29 on Wednesday after collapsing during pregame warm-ups for a top flight match-up.
This past summer, soccer star Christian Eriksen collapsed during a UEFA Euro 2020 game while representing Denmark. Defibrillation was performed on the field before Eriksen was carted off. A day later, team doctor Morten Boesen confirmed that Eriksen had suffered a cardiac arrest.
In November, Wigan manager Lean Richardson had to administer CPR to striker Charlie Wyke after he went into cardiac arrest in training.
Days later, Sheffield United’s John Fleck was carted off during a match-up against Reading after suddenly collapsing.
Norwegian player Emil Palsson was technically dead for four minutes after collapsing during a Norwegian second division game but was later resuscitated.
On December 15, Barcelona’s Sergio Aguero announced his retirement at the age of 33, citing a heart condition. Aguero had not played since October after being forced to exit a game after experiencing chest pain.
Barcelona later announced that the discomfort had been caused by an arrhythmia, a broad term to describe an abnormal heart rhythm, and would require treatment over a three-month period.
Professor Sanjay Sharma, who is head of research and professor of sports cardiology at St. George’s University in London, spoke with the Daily Mail regarding the uptick. “We’ve had this blitz in 2021,” Sharma said.
“It’s worrying that there is suddenly a whole load of young men who are supposed to epitomize the healthier segment of society suddenly crashing with cardiac problems.”
Sharma said the increase could be due to a number of reasons, including flawed screening for heart conditions or an uptick in pace of the game.
“I’m keeping an open mind. My feeling is that this is probably a statistical cluster rather than something on the rise.” Sharma said.
Sharma does not believe the uptick is related to COVID-19 vaccines.
“Everyone is jumping to the conclusion that it is COVID-related or even worse, that vaccine-related myocarditis may be responsible for this spate of cardiac issues that we are seeing in football players.” Sharma told the Daily Mail.
“I can tell you now that Eriksen’s arrest was nothing to do with COVID or the vaccine,” said Sharma. “Nor was Aguero’s cardiac scare, nor were Fleck’s problems or Wyke’s.”
Sharma believes that increased pace of play could be a contributing factor, though he added that he has an open mind.
He also floated the idea that Premier League Players have not had enough rest because they kept training while the league was shut down due to COVID-19.