By now, the world knows about Christian Eriksen’s collapse during Denmark’s opening Euro 2020 match against Finland. Thankfully the quick response from Anthony Taylor, the Danish squad, and the medical staff enabled Eriksen to leave the pitch alive and return home to his family. The actions of everyone on the pitch and the fans in the stands were exemplary. Eriksen is alive today because of it.
However, the accident on Saturday reviled the side of the game no one likes. First, there was the issue with the universal stream. Instead of cutting away or simply keeping the cameras on a wide shot of the stadium, someone somewhere decided to keep showing the situation on the pitch. Not only did the cameras stay on the pitch, but the decision was made to try to show as much of the situation as possible. There was and remains no excuse for broadcasting the images that were broadcast Saturday. While the images that came out of the squad surrounding Eriksen and the medical staff were a powerful showing of love, brotherhood, and compassion, that action should have never been necessary.
The same needs to be said of the broadcast footage showing Eriksen’s partner Sabrina Kvist Jensen. Showing her in tears to a global audience is unacceptable. Again while the images of Kasper Schmeichel and Simon Kjær comforting and, as is now known reassuring her that Eriksen was still breathing, are powerful they never should have been broadcast to the world. It was a moment that should have been kept private, only to be reveled to the world should those involved want to reveal it.
Then there is the decision to resume the match within a few hours of Eriksen being taken to the hospital. While UEFA gave the teams options, in truth none of the options were good or honestly acceptable. No one was going to agree to forfeit and take a 3-0 loss. Playing the match the morning after would have been unbelievably difficult. That left finishing the match the same day. The least bad out of three awful options, a choice that really was not much of a choice at all. A decision that left Danish players warming-up to re-start the match, while tears still ran down their faces. A decision that resulted in Schmeichel conceding a goal he almost never concedes and Pierre-Emile Højbjerg taking, and subsequently missing, a weak penalty to level the score. Playing the rest of the match Saturday, while technically the players’s decision, should have never been an option from UEFA.
In the days since, UEFA and FIFA have come under fire for failing to protect the Danish and Finnish players. UEAF’s handling of the medical incident on Saturday, adding fuel to an already burning fire. The fixture congestion of this past season, the condensed schedule, adding more teams to UCL and the World Cup, adding new regional international competitions, and three match international windows has exhausted the players. Concern from fans, players, and managers is at an all time high.
It has become clear that FIFA and regional bodies such as UEFA, are far more concerned about maximizing profits than caring for the human athletes making the whole thing possible. The sad truth is that has always been FIFA’s goal. FIFA wants players to play as much as they can while still maintaining a certain level of quality that keeps fans watching. It does not matter to them if muscular injuries are increasing. As long as the big star players can keep bringing in viewers and advertisers, the governing bodies are happy. Most fans already knew that and, while frustrated with it, have accepted it as reality.
However, the handling of Saturday’s emergency brought an even darker side to light. UEFA was willing to broadcast the death and resuscitation of an athlete as entertainment. Sports are not Hollywood dramas or even reality TV. These athletes and their families are real human beings, and in the most traumatic and terrifying moment of their lives, UEFA exploited their fear, pain, and vulnerability for profit.
UEFA then expected the traumatized players to turn off their emotions and resume the match, with at most about 18 hours to process the near death of their friend and teammate. If UEFA truly cared about their athletes, they would have worked with the two federations to arrange the match at a more suitable time. Instead, UEFA took the easy option for themselves, offering the planned back-up time in event of something like a weather delay or technical difficulties. In doing so, UEFA unintentionally sent the message an athlete nearly dying is an inconvenience the way a thunderstorm is an inconvenience. UEFA forgot to consider the emotional state and emotional needs of their players. Of course re-arranging the fixture in the middle of a major tournament would be extremely difficult, but given the circumstance UEFA needed to figure something out. Instead they took the easy way out, making the human beings on the pitch pay the price.
Football has a crisis. A crisis of player safety and protection. While the doctors, physios, dietitians, and personal trainers, among others work endlessly to keep the athletes healthy, footballers are not robots. They are humans. Humans have both emotional and physical limits. No matter how advanced medical technology becomes, players will need to rest. They will need time with their families. FIFA will have to realize this eventually, before it is too late.