Belgian club Wilrijk-Beerschot have announced the death of their left-back Tim Nicot after the player suffered cardiac arrest during a match.
Nicot was only 23-years-old when he collapsed during play on Friday and was subsequently put into an induced coma while doctors fought to stabilise his condition. Unfortunately, their efforts were in vain.
Wilrijk-Beerschot, who were top of their division and fighting for promotion, have made a statement that the club is in shock and that their condolences are with Nicot's family and friends.
They said: "KFCO Wilrijk Beerschot are still searching for the right words to express our feelings, our sorrows.
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"Because disbelief, dismay, powerless rage, too... they all fight for their place on the front row in the emotional rollercoaster that is currently blowing through our club."
The statement continued: "He fought. He fought as 'a bear'. Lovingly surrounded by his family, supported by his fellow mates and his many friends."
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SECOND DEATH IN AS MANY WEEKS
This news comes as a particular blow in the country, which has recently been forging something of a footballing legacy on the national stage, as it comes only two weeks since a similar case of cardiac arrest during a competitive game.
On 27th April 2015 Gregory Mertens was playing for Belgium Pro League team Lokeren, in a reserve match, when he collapsed and was put into an artificially induced coma. Three days later Mertens passed away, prompting a national outpouring of sympathy and condolence.
He had been a Belgium Under-21s national team player, and the news prompted response and words of support from some of his Premier League compatriots including national team captain Vincent Kompany and Romelu Lukaku.
Fabrice Muamba tweeted: "Horrible news that Gregory Mertens has passed away (...) #RIP"
Muamba's tweet was particularly emotive as he also famously suffered a cardiac arrest on pitch while playing for Bolton Wanders against Tottenham Hotspur in the FA Cup, televised live on national television in March 2012.
In both cases there were claims that clubs could do more to screen sportsmen, however, in Mertens case Lokeren have stated that all UEFA sanctioned tests were conducted and showed the player to be at no risk.
NOT ISOLATED TO FOOTBALL
The shocking unknown dangers of participating at this level of sport are not just limited to football either. Danny Jones was a 29-year-old Rugby League star, who played for Wales at international level.
Less than two weeks before the death of Nicot in Belgium, Jones was taken ill during a League One game for Keighley Cougars and substituted in only the fourth minute. He soon went into cardiac-arrest and despite the efforts of medical staff, died later that day at the Royal Free Hospital.
His wife and children are currently at the centre of an impressive memorial appeal which the Mirror has reported is reaching its target of £100,000 for the RFL Benevolent Fund for injured sportsmen.
The sport of Strongman was shocked last year when, soon after competing in World's Strongest Man 2014, competitor and bright talent for the future Mike Jenkins died aged 31.
In the case of Jenkins, the coroner's report shows that long-term steroid use contributed to his premature death. This is a familiar story in the sport, and is even more common in bodybuilding.
However, such substance abuse is seldom at the root of what was once referred to as 'sudden death syndrome' in football, rugby, athletics, or many other sports where it occurs. Yet these occurrences appear to be on the increase.
CAUSES AND SAFETY MEASURES
In the aftermath of Danny Jones' death, coroners have found that he did suffer from undiagnosed hereditary heart disease which contributed directly to his death.
But in many other cases, particularly in football, causes are not always clearly detectable, even after death. There are many scientific theories aside from just congenital causes, which can include many contributing factors culminating in sudden cardiac arrest on a football pitch, known as 'acquired causes'. These are often asymptomatic, making detection incredibly difficult.
A study in 2010 identified some best practice in the event of such an incident on the playing field, and certainly this sort of research and proposal of recommended measures is integral to saving lives, including that of Fabrice Muamba in 2012.
So while response practices will continue to improve, as well as screening for structural cardiac disease, it still cannot rule out risk to a player from acquired causes.
More research needs to be undertaken so that players can be protected, by minimising the risk to their health that their day-to-day activities can cause, as well as diagnosing existing conditions. This is effectively Occupational Health for sports stars.
But the case of Tim Nicot this week also highlights a whole other band of people who are potentially even more at risk.
Although they do not perhaps push their bodies to the same limits, which would increase the risks of contributing factors resulting in sudden cardiac arrest, they also do not get the same screening, nor have the same emergency responses in place on a match day that you would in the Premier League, for example.
They do not have their lifestyle and performance monitored by club professionals. And although in his case an adequate response was provided, it is sobering to think that in many cases, particularly at the non-professional levels, no pre-emptive or responsive measures are in place at all.
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