It was recently brought to my attention that a number of football/soccer players have either died on the field or have collapsed on the field only to die later in a hospital from cardiac related ailments.

According to Wikipedia: From 1984 - Present, there have been approximately 60 deaths where a player has collapsed and/or died either during a game or during a practice session.

I have attempted to research this more, but all I am noticing are theories rather than facts.

This seems to be a concern of many, including Andy Paschalidis, former SBS announcer and a player for the Forest Rangers Football Club. Mr. Paschalidis is supporting a campaign to have defibrillators available at all football games.

I understand that football/soccer players outnumber other athletes in professional sports. This should not diminish the fact that this issue has raised several concerns regarding football/soccer players deaths/collapses on the playing field.

Is there a valid and substantiated reason why this is happening to these athletes in this particular sport?

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    Is there any evidence the number is higher than for other similarly active sports once the (much) number of participants in football is taken into account?
    – Philip Kendall
    Commented Sep 13, 2015 at 14:26
  • @PhilipKendall I have never heard of any, but I live in the U.S. There has not been anything like this over here (large amount of players collapsing or dying on the field of play due to the same ailment) Commented Sep 13, 2015 at 15:01
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    Sure, but how many people play American football every week, and how many play soccer? Of course there are going to be more deaths among soccer players, because it's the most played sport in the world. We need numbers for deaths per million participants per year or similar, or this is a meaningless comparison.
    – Philip Kendall
    Commented Sep 13, 2015 at 15:07
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    @studro If you have verifiable statistics on this and post as an answer, I will gladly accept it. Commented Sep 15, 2015 at 6:12
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    I agree entirely with the last part of your comment. However, the question asks why there are so many, which indicates there are a somewhat high amount (perhaps relative to to other sports). However, I don't think that's the right question to be asking - in order to ask your question, you first need to establish that the number of deaths is high relative to perhaps other sports. If someone was to post "there are actually not that many", it's not really an answer to the question asked, and better left as a comment. Commented Sep 20, 2015 at 11:19

2 Answers 2


This is just a long comment.

First I am positive that you will have more cardiac deaths in football/soccer than the average population. Let's not forget basketball too which is probably the most famous sport for athletes dying while playing.

This whole thing is very close to me because I have witnessed a friend die playing football and another collapse on the basketball court and have open heart surgery hours later. There are a lot of factors that predispose this to happening:

  • the male athlete is more likely to have genetic mutations concerning the heart or surrounding valves.

  • the male athlete in these sports are usually big and fast which puts more stress on the heart

  • these sports require stopping and starting at sprint speed. One with a heart condition can theoretically run all day, at a marathoners pace. But that same person may have dramatic issues if stopping and starting which causes sudden blood flows through the aorta and heart.

  • football and basketball in general are far more likely to have athletes come into the season in very poor physical condition, especially at the high school level. I have coached high school football and at the beginning of the year 1/3 of the team couldn't do a mile under 10 mins.

  • these sports just require more activity than other sports. The practices are harder, burn more calories, do more whatever, it is harder. A person with a genetic heart condition is much more likely to reach his tipping point when doing something like this.

  • On a side note - I do not agree with the soccer statement. I don't have concrete facts but I don't see it. Most of the world plays soccer so maybe you hear about a lot in that sport. The two big sports are basketball and football that you hear about this. I have a strong feeling this is due to the size of the players. Not only does the size and height put stress on the heart (really tall people die sooner) but really tall people also are more prone to predisposed conditions and genetic mutations that cause heart issues. A good percentage of basketball players over 6'6" have known genetic conditions and are monitored heavily.

As for defibrillators - it couldn't hurt but I doubt would help much either. Most of the issues are around tears/holes around the aorta/valve/heart. This is not like baseball where you got a sudden shock to your heart by being hit with a ball in the chest.


I think it's simply not the case that soccer players die of cardiac issues more than other sports. Quoting from this New York Daily News article:

Researchers from the National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury Research studied 243 [American] football deaths recorded between July 1990 and June 2010. One hundred of the fatalities resulted from an underlying heart condition.

That's approximately 5 cardiac-related deaths a year among American football players; even assuming the number of American football players is the same as the number of soccer players (which I don't believe, but don't have hard numbers for either), that's a greater rate than the ~3 soccer deaths per year.

  • This doesn't answer the question. The question was "what is the cause of so many cardiac deaths', not "are there many cardiac deaths". If the question is edited to ask "are there a lot of cardiac deaths compared to other sports, and if so, what is the cause", I will reverse the vote. Commented Oct 7, 2015 at 0:45
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    You may as well have gone to health.stackexchange and asked what causes heart attacks, then. If you want to know why more soccer players are dying of heart attacks, you must first establish THAT more soccer ARE dying of heart attacks. But this answer shows that at best, they aren't - and more likely, it seems, the opposite. With the base assumption invalidated, there's nothing further to explain.
    – Nij
    Commented Mar 15, 2016 at 10:41
  • @Nij Not at all. If the question is not an answerable question, then no answer can be given. Any comments on the premise on the question should be left as comments and the question should be closed. Commented Mar 18, 2016 at 2:10

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