Is watching soccer as good as playing it?
The 2018 FIFA World Cup has begun. Experts, in this report by SADE OGUNTOLA, however, warn that staying safe and healthy during the period is important, cautioning against getting too excited while watching the matches.
The 2018 Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) World Cup, probably the biggest game on the planet, is here again. It brings the best teams and players from around the globe to compete for the most famous trophy in the world.
Engagement in soccer or football is always fun, whether as a player or as a spectator. It offers a safe space where expressed emotion is acceptable, even crying or hugging other men.
Watching the game, boosts well being and social life, ensures soccer fans and players get connected across time, transcending the barriers that divide people generationally.
Its many surprises, Iceland having a draw with Argentina and Mexico beating Germany, Lionel Messi missing the penalty in the match against Iceland, few days after the games started had kept football fans on the edge.
However, 2018 FIFA World Cup can only be fun for as long as both players and spectators stay safe. Even as spectators, “when the excitement is too high, it can portend danger, whether watching in Russia, at a viewing centre or at home,” said Dr Surajudeen Adefabi Ogunyemi, a consultant cardiologist at the Obafemi Awolowo University Teaching Hospitals Complex (OAUTHC), Ile Ife, Osun State.
He declared that any die-hard sports fan can relate to the exhilaration of watching a particularly eventful game, that leaves them feeling like their heart is racing even harder than the athletes’ while screaming profanities at the TV or chanting like a maniac at the actual game.
Dr Ogunyemi said such an excitement from a soccer match, which is more when the opposite team is attempting to score, their team is trying to score or overtime periods, can make the blood pressure go up, and portending danger particularly in individuals with hypertension and heart problems.
According to him, “it is like the same exertion from vigorous exercise. So for people who are hypertensive and their blood pressure is not controlled, if they are too emotionally connected to their club, or team, the blood pressure can shot up and result in stroke, heart attack, irregular heartbeat and even sudden death while viewing high-stakes or high-intensity portions of the game.
“It has happened; it happens regularly. People should be less emotional when watching their teams. Those that are hypertensive should take their drug to keep their blood pressure down.
“I remember John Mackstrut, a Lebanese and one-time chairman of Leventis United, he does not come to the stadium to watch his team when they are playing finals. He claims that he cannot bear the tension that comes with the match.”
He warned that too much emotional involvement of some soccer fans leads to them committing suicide or homicide.
According to him, “some with suicidal tendencies end up committing suicide. Players that keep messing up are attacked or killed after their matches.
“During the last World Cup, a Cameroonian lost a penalty against Egypt. His family house was burnt down while he was whisked out of Yaoundé that night. These are social issues related to World Cup.”
In 2008, a study in the New England Journal of Medicine concluded that “viewing a stressful soccer match more than doubles the risk of an acute cardiovascular event”.
Conversely, another study in the Canadian Journal of Cardiology found that people’s pulses increased by 75 per cent when they watched a hockey game on television, and by 110 per cent when watching a match in person – equivalent to the cardiac stress of vigorous exercise.
He, however, added that while an ordinary soccer game might not be dangerous, a heart attack can be triggered by emotional upset, from say watching your football team lose an important match.
Dr Kolawole Mosaku, a consultant psychiatrist, OAUTHC, Ile-Ife, said a win or loss by a team can become a mental health problem in someone passionate for soccer.
Dr Mosaku said emotional disturbance as a result of a lost match and consequently its disappointment, can serve as a trigger for a mental health problem in someone susceptible or under treatment for one mental health condition or the other.
“The World Cup is a significant event in the life of most men who watch football, any significant life event can precipitate a mental health breakdown in those that are already predisposed. What we always advocate is: you must always strike a balance, do not become so emotionally attached to any team.
“Things like lack of sleep, drinking to excess, and forgetting to take prescribed medication while being distracted by the game could all be contributing factors to significant events like this.”
Chairman, Association of Public Health Physicians of Nigeria, Lagos Chapter, Dr Oladoyin Odubanjo, said soccer fans travelling to Russia for the game should be wary of infectious diseases, including HIV.
“People, for instance, assume that in Eastern Europe, that there is no infectious disease or even sexually transmitted infections. So no one can afford to be careless. Human being are the same irrespective of where they reside.”
He urged soccer fans travelling to Russia for the game to also ensure that they are appropriately vaccinated, while also been cautious of whatever food or drink they take to prevent food poison and dehydration.
Dr Odubanjo declared the need for a medical insurance. “You do not expect to fall sick, or get involved in an accident. But anything can happen, which is why medical insurance is important.
“It is particularly important when you have some known medical conditions. Over there, money could be an obstacle to healthcare without insurance.”
The expert urged people to be wary of alcohol use. “The report has it of a drunken Nigerian who was making noise watching a match in Russia. After he was cautioned and he did not listen, he was thrown down from the window of the apartment where he was staying,” he said.
Dr Odubanjo, who said he had also stopped watching penalties in football matches because they were always anxiety-soaked, stated “I switch off and I wait for people to tell me what the final score was. That is my own way of controlling it.
“There is no point seating here and becoming really agitated. These guys playing are earning thousands of pounds, I am not going to get any of it, and here I am trying to kill myself over what I stand to gain nothing.”
He, however, added that friends watching soccer while having drinks and snacks like suya may be a good form of socialising and preventing loneliness, particularly in individuals prone to mental disorders such as depression.
The Russian Federation’s health authorities, supported by WHO/Europe have issued a checklist to help football fans travelling to Russia for the World Cup this month to stay safe and healthy.
They said there was currently a measles epidemic in Europe and surrounding countries, putting individuals not immune to the disease at extra risk of infection as fans crowd together in stadiums.
Other key messages for staying healthy during the World Cup are:
- Avoid excessive alcohol and recreational drugs which increase the risk of injury, assault, and high-risk sex.
- Use good quality condoms with any casual sexual partner.
- Stay well hydrated and having access to safe, clean water, and food.
- Any prescription and over the counter medicines needed should be carried in hand luggage.
- Russia is designated as a ‘high-risk’ country for rabies in animals. An additional vaccine should be considered for anyone planning on extending their trip.