Calls for mandatory health checks for amateur, recreational athletes to prevent death during play

Since January, there has been a series of deaths involving Malaysians while exercising, or playing a sport.

These tragic episodes, however, should not deter people from sweating it out. Instead, the public should start monitoring their health regularly.

Olympic Council of Malaysia medical and anti-doping committee member, Datuk Dr Ramlan Aziz, stressed that there should be laws or guidelines to compel people to monitor their health frequently, before they compete in any competition.

“Some may rubbish this move, but just think about it, we would minimise the risk of injury and even death if recreational footballers, for example, undergo health check-ups before they play in the local league,” said Dr Ramlan.

Over the weekend, a 57-year-old collapsed while playing football at the Penampang Sports Complex. He died while receiving treatment.

Last month, former international, S. Sivabalan, 59, died during a hockey match in Ipoh.

In February, a referee in his 50s died during a football match in Taman Berjaya, Kajang, while in January, former national footballer, television pundit and Twentytwo13 columnist Serbegeth Singh, passed away while cycling near Iskandar Puteri in Johor. He was 61.

Malaysia’s transition from Covid-19 pandemic to the endemic phase started on April 1. The move sees sports being played in schools, with more local leagues and competitions at all levels, being organised.

The OCM medical and anti-doping committee, had last month, expressed its concern with the number of heart-related issues and post-Covid-19 effects among elite athletes, as they compete in major multi-sport Games this year. The national athletes bound for the Hanoi SEA Games (May 12-23), Birmingham Commonwealth Games (July 28-Aug 8) and Hangzhou Asian Games (Sept 10-25) will undergo cardiovascular assessments.

Dr Ramlan, who once served as the National Sports Council director-general, National Sports Institute chief executive officer and Anti-Doping Agency of Malaysia director, said elite athletes are closely monitored, but the same cannot be said for those who take up casual, or recreational sports.

“It is mandatory for our national athletes to undergo health check-ups. When examinations are carried out and we find something amiss, the athletes are quickly referred to a cardiologist for further investigation.

“But for recreational, and even club footballers, I’ve come across instances in the past where they lie in their fitness tests. Some of them don’t even undergo health check-ups.

“What about the average Malaysian who wants to exercise or play a sport for fun? They too, need to monitor as there are several factors that can contribute to an injury or death on the field or court. It could be due to their smoking habit, or them hanging around smokers. Perhaps they have a pre-existing heart condition or a family history of heart diseases.

“Sometimes, we make assumptions. Regardless of the sport you are in, you must do a check-up and it needs to be done regularly. We’ve heard of people dropping dead while playing badminton or football. We need to minimise these risks.”

“This (regular check-ups) should be made mandatory, make it into a law, or at least, a guideline. Why do we always need to wait for people to die before we act?”

Dr Ramlan said such a “guideline” should not only be enforced in local leagues, but also in schools.

“We need to study this. It’s just like doping. Many think doping is an issue involving elite athletes, but it’s not. It can be a public health issue. There must be a push to draw up plans to tackle this issue.”

He added health and safety go hand in hand, more so in sports.

“If people say that such guidelines or laws are difficult, then let’s put it into context. Before embarking on a long journey, you would check your vehicle first, to ensure it was fit for the trip. It’s the same thing with the human body.

“Why can’t you do the same with your health? You are not doing it for yourself alone, you are doing it for your loved ones.

“There will be arguments (about mandatory health checks) but the idea is to protect yourself.”

Dr Ramlan advised those who are just starting to exercise after two years of leading a sedentary lifestyle following the various lockdowns, to constantly monitor their heart rate.

“Deaths on the courts or fields should not discourage anyone from playing sports. At the same time, you must be fit to play the sport, and not play the sport to be fit.

“We have to realise that every aspect of life has risks. Accidents, and even deaths, can happen at home. We can never eliminate the risk of accidents or diseases completely, but we shouldn’t expose ourselves to these risks by neglecting our health, or by not taking appropriate care,” he added.

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