Sporting Tragedies: Running the Risk

Risk is an inherent factor in any sport and what some spectators and participants find so appealing about it. Naturally, the mental and physical skills required  are also reasons for the popularity of a sport. There have been, nonetheless, occasions in sport recently that have brought spectators and participants back down to earth with a sobering thud; when we are fully reminded of the fragility of the human body.

In October 2011, Marco Simoncelli’s fatal accident during the Malaysian MotoGP shook the motorsport world. This fatality was the second installment of an unfortunate double whammy for motorsport enthusiasts, after having learnt, only a week prior, of the passing of Dan Wheldon, a fellow motor sportsman, due to a collision during the IndyCar World Championship. This ill-fated turn of events has certainly raised an issue over safety in sport, but should there be more safety measures? And if some deaths in sport are down to fate, how can others be prevented?

The fact remains that fatalities in sport are not common; very rarely does a sportsperson die during play. Of course, when they do, the death often hits the spectators the hardest. The demise of Marc Vivien Foé, a renowned likeable character, during an International football match in 2003, shook the sporting world to its core. It was later found out that the Cameroonian died of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a rare heart condition in athletes where a muscle in the heart is dangerously thickened. But, despite his death being unpreventable, more safety measures were put in place by Sepp Blatter, including cardiological check-ups before games and defibrillating machines in every stadium.

The same response, however, had not been issued by MotoGP race director Paul Butler. Although Butler had said investigations into the accidents will take place, many prominent figures in motorsport have not hesitated to defend the actions taken to ensure the well-being of the racers. Schumacher declared that “To have total safety…is impossible”, backing up the opinion of Fraco Uncini, the MotoGP riders’ safety representative. Uncini believes that “plenty” has been done for safety and “…we don’t have the power to change fate”. Theoretically, any sport can benefit from more safety measures and precautions, but it appears that, for the majority of deaths in sport, little can be done to prevent what Uncini calls “fate”.

It seems improbable that sportsmen and women don’t know what they are putting at stake every time they play their sport. All players of sport participate aware of the potential consequences of their actions. Two time Formula One World Champion Fernando Alonso turns the tables: “The love for the sport, the adrenaline you have…blocks out the risk”. Lewis Hamilton supports this emphatically, stating that “If I was to pass away, I cannot imagine a better way”. The sentiment is also shared by a Cameroonian reporter, in connection with Foé’s passing, who stated that “To die on the football field, having minutes earlier sung the national anthem of his nation and guided his teammates into the final of a major competition…few are granted the chance to end their earthly voyage in such beauty”.

It seems that, no matter what or how many efforts are made by the governing bodies of each sport to continuously improve safety, for the most part, the death of a sportsperson is unforeseeable and unpreventable, therefore deepening the tragedy and shock of such an event. Spectators and participators should take solace in the fact that these accidents act as timely reminders of our mortality. We must never forget that these athletes take part in these sports to enrich their lives. It’s just a shame that the sport sometimes takes back something that is not theirs.

Michael Timbs



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