Cheick Tiote's death poses questions over China's ability to cope with responsibility that comes with their severe financial power, writes Liam Baxter.
The untimely death of former Newcastle United combative midfielder Cheick Tiote two weeks ago brought to light the awfully painful question of whether professional sporting organizations, particularly those in China, are doing enough to ensure heart defects among professional and amateur athletes are detected early and sufficiently.
According to a list of players that have passed away during a game or in training, Wikipedia begrudgingly being the most accurate source there is to date, a total of sixty-four players have died since 2007. Eight of the previous ten are of African descent, raising eyebrows and questions within the footballing community. Can more be done to prevent seemingly young and healthy athletes from just falling down dead? Are athletes of sub-Saharan descent more susceptible to these conditions? And are the Chinese sporting authorities taking steps to implement safety measures that befit their new found position in the financial totem pole?
Early reports into the cause of Cheick Tiote’s death are suggesting that Beijing Enterprise, the club in China where Tiote was plying his trade at the time, did not have emergency cardiac equipment at the training base where he collapsed. Prior to that, Tiote had only been with the team and in the country for six months. Would Tiote not have had to pass a stringent medical before making the move from the northeast of England? With players moving to China for exorbitant amounts of money, there needs to be processes in place to ensure the players that arrive are fit and healthy.
After Bolton Wanderers’ Fabrice Muamba collapsed during an FA Cup tie in 2012, the English FA introduced a ruling to ensure all professional clubs had access to the necessary cardiac equipment, including defibrillators, and mandatory cardiac screenings at all professional football clubs, equating for around 1,400 cardiac screenings per calendar year. While in Italy a mandatory cardiac screening process was set up in 1982 for all athletes taking part in organized sport. To prevent further unnecessary deaths this protocol has to be rolled out worldwide by the relevant governing bodies.
The medical complexities that shroud heart conditions and their links to African-born players underline the need for stringent screening in England, China and across the globe for all professional athletes. English charity Cardiac Risk in the Young (CRY) offer screenings for just £30, highlighting the fact that cost is not an issue. According to statistics released by CRY, around 12 people under the age of 35 die each day in the United Kingdom because of an undiagnosed heart condition. However the number could be much higher as it is supposedly difficult to diagnose cardiac issue after the heart has stopped beating.
In some cases footballing ambition is seen to be clouding the judgment of players when an alarming condition is caught during a screening. Mohamed Diame’s time at Lens was cut short because of a heart problem, while Loic Remy is another known example of a player found to have had potential heart defect during a medical, only to transfer from Nice to Marseille in 2010 anyway - that “anomaly on the wall of his heart” would also scupper Remy’s move from Queens Park Rangers to Liverpool in 2014.
Cardiac screening is not a foolproof system; there are those who are found to have no existing problem but a potential future condition known as a “false positive”. The heart is a complex organ constantly evolving and requires repeated screening.
With the accelerated spending of Chinese Super League clubs in the transfer market -- fueled by billionaire tycoons and the enthusiasm of President Xi Jinping -- surely measures should be put in place to ensure the safety of players willing to make the move to the far-east.