THE HAGUE: World football players’ union FIFPro voiced grave concerns Saturday about the level of first-aid treatment for footballers at Romanian clubs after the tragic death of Cameroon’s Patrick Ekeng.
The 26-year-old Ekeng had been on the pitch for only seven minutes on Friday after his introduction as a second-half substitute for his club Dinamo Bucharest when he collapsed in the center circle.
He could not be resuscitated.
Prosecutors in Bucharest announced on Saturday they had opened an enquiry into Ekeng’s death, amid criticism of the treatment he received.
“While it is too early to draw conclusions from this tragic accident, as police continue to investigate the circumstances, it is clear that some Romanian clubs have a history of skimping on medical facilities,” FIFPro said in a statement.
The Dutch-based FIFPro said its Romanian union member had already asked the Balkan country’s football federation back in 2012 to make it compulsory for clubs to have fully-equipped ambulances at all official and friendly matches.
The request came after promising young Nigerian player Henry Chinonso Ihelewere, 21, collapsed and died of a heart attack on the field during a second division match in August 2012.
The plan was never adopted, according to Emilian Hulubei, Romanian players’ union AFAN’s president, FIFPro said.
“Instead clubs in the top three divisions have been allowed to have ambulances on standby with minimal equipment,” said FIFPro.
Hulubei said it was understood that Ekeng had the required health checks in Bucharest while playing in Romania, but that there was evidence that clubs from outside the capital were not doing so to save money.
An autopsy will be performed on Monday with Romania’s Interior Minister also announcing that a probe would be carried out into the private ambulance company which transported the player to hospital, to determine if equipment complied with norms and staff were sufficiently qualified.
According to Cristian Pandrea, a doctor in the Bucharest hospital just beside the Dinamo stadium, no attempt had been made to resuscitate the player in the ambulance.
“It’s not the first time that such an incident has happened on a football pitch. The causes can be many and they will be revealed by tests which will be carried out later,” Pandrea told Agerpres.
FIFPro general secretary Theo van Seggelen said Ekeng’s death was “simply shocking.”
“After local authorities complete their investigation, we expect answers as to whether or not this tragedy could have been avoided,” he said.
The death of Ekeng plunged Cameroon football back into mourning, 13 years after Marc-Vivien Foe’s passing.
“The sad images of this drama brought back another — that of June 26, 2003 at Gerland,” wrote Cameroon star Samuel Eto’o on his Facebook page, recalling Foe who collapsed and died on the pitch in Lyon during a Confederations Cup semifinals against Colombia.
“Like a broken record of sadness and tragedy, Patrick Ekeng passed away, struck dead,” continued Eto’o, who said he was “completely devastated”.
The news of the player’s death was met with disbelief in his home country.
“We’re devastated. Words can’t express my sadness,” the president of Cameroon’s Football Federation (FECAFOOT) Tombi A Roko Sidiki told Agence France-Presse.
“[Cameroon has lost another] promising young footballer,” he said, adding they had been counting on Ekeng for the 2019 African Cup of Nations hosted by Cameroon.
The FECAFOOT president lamented a death which echoed previous tragedies which “are multiplying alas”.
Most recently defender Gregory Mertens died three days after suffering a heart attack playing for his Belgian side Lokeren in April 2015.
“FIFA [international federation]is trying to take measures. We hope [they]will help reduce such accidents,” Sidiki added.
Romanian football also paid tribute to the player with all matches this weekend postponed and the Romanian Cup final between Dinamo Bucharest and CFR Cluj scheduled for May 10 put back a week.
Dinamo executive director Ionel Danciulescu expressed his shock following a second club tragedy following Catalin Haldan’s death during a friendly in October 2000.
“I can’t believe it. It’s a nightmare. For me, for the team and for all Dinamo supporters. It’s too much,” said Danciulescu. “It’s as if we are cursed.”
Midfielder Ekeng, a father of two, started his career at former African giants Canon Yaoundé, and arrived in Dinamo in January after several seasons in France, notably with Ligue 2 side Le Mans.
He played for Le Mans between 2009 and 2013, before being loaned out to another French side Rodez. He joined Swiss club Lausanne-Sport in 2013, then Cordoba, newly-promoted in the Spanish La Liga, the following year.
Ekeng made his debut for Cameroon in January 2015 and was named in the squad for the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations from which the Indomitable Lions’ were eliminated in the group stage.