Which athletes died during a game?

Death on the pitch: why do footballers die?

DW-WORLD.DE: Professor Kindermann, two soccer players died of sudden cardiac arrest this week, and one could still be saved. Do you see coincidence in this accumulation or do you recognize a different background?

Wilfried Kindermann: I see it primarily as a coincidence. The fact that sudden cardiac deaths occur again and again in football is primarily due to the fact that football is the number one sport worldwide - the more people play football, the more people die in the process. Correspondingly, more cardiac deaths occur in basketball and football in the USA. If you look at the number of people doing sports in a sport, you come to completely different results: the apparently harmless sports bowling and golf are at the top of the deaths.

Wilfried Kindermann

But the deceased were all professionals: young competitive athletes who are also medically monitored. You should actually think that they would be particularly healthy ...

But there are apparently healthy people who have not been examined or have not been examined properly. These sudden deaths are almost always caused by an illness. In young competitive athletes, these are almost always congenital cardiac muscle thickening or deformities of the coronary arteries or an inflammation of the myocardium.

Do the attending physicians have to be accused of not looking closely?

First of all, you have to ask whether they have even been examined. Heart muscle thickening can now be easily recognized with ultrasound. We have a very good system in German professional football: all players in the first and second Bundesliga have to undergo a heart check before a season.

It is known that doping also damages the heart in particular. Can doping be ruled out in connection with the deceased footballers?

Doping can certainly lead to cardiac disorders, such as arrhythmias and even sudden cardiac deaths. However, doping is very difficult to detect in the deceased. You can rule it out in most cases, but you can't always prove it after death.

In football there have been around 15 deaths in the performance area in the last ten years, how many cases are we talking about worldwide?

The question is important because it has to be said very clearly that the numbers are very small. It is estimated that there is one sudden cardiac death for every 100,000 people who do sports each year. Every sport with physical strain is a danger - if the athlete is not healthy. If I exercise with an undetected heart condition, I am putting myself at risk.

So if I want to go bolt with the buddies tonight, I should get a checkup beforehand ...

From a certain age you should know what your health is like. Today we have the rule of thumb that anyone over the age of 35 should have themselves checked out if they are involved in exercise. But of course it is important to establish that sport is healthy per se - and those who exercise regularly have a lower risk of cardiac death. In Germany there are 100,000 sudden cardiac deaths every year - almost no one has anything to do with sport.

You were a competitive athlete yourself in the 1960s - were you examined back then?

Oh yes, I can still clearly remember it. I was a 400-meter runner and had to pedal while lying down on a bicycle ergometer - and the examining doctor was amazed at my relatively poor performance.

Paul Wilfried Kindermann, born in 1940, won the gold medal with the 4x400 meter relay at the 1962 European Championship as an active player for the Federal Republic of Germany. Today he is one of the leading sports medicine specialists in Germany. Senior Olympic doctor of the National Olympic Committee for Germany (NOK) at seven Olympic Games so far, chief physician for the 2005 FIFA Confederations Cup and 2006 World Cup, member of the Medical Committee of the European Football Association (UEFA), Deputy Chairman of the Sports Medicine Committee of the German Football Association (DFB), Internal medicine team doctor for the German national soccer team 1990-2000, member of the scientific advisory board of the German Heart Foundation. Kindermann heads the Institute for Sports and Preventive Medicine at Saarland University.