Are "all the soccer players getting heart attacks"? And can the recent cluster of cardiac events suffered by athletes be attributed to any one cause? No, that's not true: Several of the recent incidents are clearly unrelated to the COVID-19 vaccine, and others do not point to the vaccine as a cause, but this has not prevented anti-vaccine activists from listing the names of those players to spread doubt in the safety of the vaccines.
In November 2021 a list of athletes from many sport disciplines around the world who had died or collapsed began to circulate on social media. In December 2021 more incidents occurred involving soccer players and a coach. This fact check aims to provide additional context on what is known and what is not known. On January 11, 2022, Sebastian Gorka DrG posted a tweet (archived here) that asked:
What's with all the soccer players getting heart attacks??
This is what the post looked like on Twitter at the time of writing:
(Source: Twitter screenshot taken on Wed Jan 12 19:24:34 2022 UTC)
On December 15, 2021, dailymail.uk asked the same question in an article titled, "Why are so many footballers collapsing? There has been a worrying spike in cardiac arrests and stars retiring with heart-related issues, but leading sports cardiologist insists it is NOT to do with Covid vaccine." The reporter asked Professor Sanjay Sharma, a sports cardiologist who works with England's Football Association and several of England's Premier League clubs for his take on what was going on. He agreed that the number of cardiac problems seen in the young athletes was worrying, and referred to it as "this blitz in 2021." MailOnline quoted Sharma, who named specific players and their incidents, as saying:
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.
I can tell you now that [Christian] Eriksen's arrest was nothing to do with Covid or the vaccine, nor was [Sergio] Aguero's cardiac scare, nor were [John] Fleck's problems or [Charlie] Wyke's.
Obviously we have looked after some of these players in the past through the football screening programme. Aguero played in our country for such a long time and only just moved to Spain, so you have got a good idea of what their tests looked like prior to this happening.
As someone who has knowledge of what actually happened to some of these people and the diseases that affected them, I can tell you I don't think it was football-related, just bad luck. It's just this year we have had a few of these events.
Sharma was also quoted in a November 19, 2021, article in theathletic.com (archived here) titled, "A man collapses on a football pitch once every four days. Is the threat of cardiac arrest getting worse?" Sharma addressed vaccine hesitancy among professional players and also identified several reasons why he believes there is an appearance of more incidents. His points were:
- Soccer players are more in tune with their cardiac health and are willing to signal a problem. He cited Aguero, who was taken out of a game with a cardiac symptom.
- In the age of the internet, people are exposed to more news, making incidents seem more common.
- The game has changed, becoming faster and more dynamic. The players are playing more games and it may be taking a toll.
Lead Stories has published a fact check about claims that the omicron variant is a coverup to hide vaccine effects purportedly seen in athletes and another fact check about the list of athletes who have died or collapsed.
At that time, Lead Stories reached out to The Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), the governing body of 211 soccer organizations around the world to ask if they were aware of a large number of sudden deaths and if so, if there was any evidence that this was linked to COVID-19 vaccines.
A FIFA spokesperson responded on November 29, 2021, with the statement below. On January 12, 2022, Lead Stories reached out again to FIFA to ask about the additional incidents since the previous contact and if the statement needed updating. The FIFA Communications Division responded, standing by the previous statement:
FIFA is not aware of a rise in episodes of cardiac arrests as indicated in your email and no cases have been flagged in relation to individuals receiving a COVID vaccine. Generally speaking, FIFA is in regular contact with leading research centres and experts to do research on a variety of medical topics.
Two of the recent fatal incidents involved players colliding with the goalkeeper. On December 21, 2021, the Indonesian third division team Tornado announced the death of their goalkeeper on Instagram. Taufik Ramsyah suffered a fatal head injury while trying to block an opposing player who collided with him. Another fatal incident occurred on December 25, 2021, when the captain of the Algerian Mouloudia Saida team, Sofiane Lokar, had a head-on collision with the team's goalkeeper, which caused a head injury. He received first aid and returned to play but collapsed nine minutes later of a reported heart attack.
Charlie Wyke, a striker with the greater Manchester League One, Wigan Athletic Football Club, suffered a cardiac arrest during practice in November 2021 and was saved by the quick actions of the team's doctor and manager. The Wigan Athletic Football Club issued a statement about the incident that concluded:
With Charlie's approval, we can confirm that Charlie has not received a COVID-19 vaccination and Charlie's collapse was not related to any COVID-19 vaccination.