Death on the sports field is uncommon, but when it happens, especially in Indian sports, it exposes the utter neglect and lack of preparedness on the part of the organisers.

Recently, we witnessed the tragic demise of a young footballer, D. Venkatesh, of local club Bangalore Mars, who collapsed on the field, after he came on as a substitute in a league match against South Western Railways at the BDFA Stadium in Bangalore.

It was not the first such tragedy in the city — in the 2004 Federation Cup football final, Dempo Sports Club's Brazilian striker Cristiano Jr. collapsed on the field and died after colliding with the rival goalkeeper, Subrata Paul of Mohun Bagan.

No lessons seem to have been learnt from that incident.

In fact, in Venkatesh's case, there was no stretcher to even carry him from the field. Hosmat Hospital is just a stone's throw away from the football ground, but no transport was available. His fellow players and officials took him in an autorickshaw to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead on arrival reportedly from cardiac arrest.

Lessons in contrast

This was in stark contrast to a similar incident during the same week in the English FA Cup quarterfinal match in London, where Fabrice Muamba of Bolton Wanderers suffered a cardiac arrest on the field. But prompt attention of the on-ground medical staff, before he was taken to hospital, saved his life.

It is baffling how the Bangalore District Football Association (BDFA) ignores the need for competent medical staff and facility at the stadium.

Football is a contact sport with every possibility of injury, so access to proper medical aid at the venue should be made mandatory.

The cash-strapped football association finds itself in a spot to ensure such facilities at the stadium. As one official candidly put it, “We struggle to conduct tournaments. Where do we find the money for a round-the-clock medical centre on match days?”

The stadium itself presents a shoddy spectacle. Barring the artificial playing turf, there is not a single player or spectator-friendly amenity. In Bangalore, despite its rich tradition, football has remained a poor man's game.

Safety on a backburner

It is not just football alone that is short of emergency medical care for players. Prompt medical help in case of accidents during tennis matches or swimming competitions remains a far cry. Organisers tend to put safety on the backburner and keep their fingers crossed that nothing untoward happens. It mostly never does, but there danger remains.

It shouldn't take another tragedy for the sports associations and organisers to take steps to make sports arenas safe.


Match PointJanuary 13, 2011

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