Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Mystery Illness Strike Footballers

The following article was taken from the UK Times online edition. Me don't know if you remember, but this is exactly the same disease that took the life of our very own super Mokh (passed on 11 July 1991).

Footballers fall prey to fatal disease
A spate of deaths from motor neurone disease has rocked the game in Italy (by Matthew Campbell)

In a case that could have come straight from the pages of a medical thriller, Italy is investigating a mysterious epidemic among former professional footballers, dozens of whom have been killed by a disease that paralyses its victims.

The latest to be stricken is Stefano Borgonovo, a 44-year-old former striker for AC Milan. His announcement that he was suffering from motor neurone disease (MND) was made from a wheelchair with a computer-generated voice and has chilled a nation of football fans who are used to considering players as idols rather than martyrs.

A climate of fear and suspicion hangs over the stadiums. According to one theory, the incurable disease might be linked to pesticides used on football pitches. Others suggest it could be a result of doping or physical injuries from tackles or repeatedly heading the ball.

“The truth is, we just don’t know,” said Adriano Chio, a neurologist and Italy’s foremost expert on the condition, which is known in America as Lou Gehrig’s disease after an American baseball player who died of it in 1941.

Chio’s research has shown that professional footballers in Italy are seven times more likely to develop motor neurone disease than others. Midfielders seem particularly vulnerable, perhaps because they are tackled more than other players.

“It is very curious,” said Christopher Shaw, professor of neurology at King’s College London. “There’s been a suspicion for a long time that sportsmen are susceptible.”

Raffaele Guariniello, a magistrate from Turin, enlisted Chio to do an epidemiological survey after his own investigation into a high incidence of cancer and heart problems in Italy’s premier league exposed the presence of an even more sinister scourge among the ranks of the retired players.

He discovered that 41 of them had suffered lingering deaths since 1973 from MND, which destroys the body’s motor nerves, eventually resulting in paralysis. Among the victims were Gianluca Signorini, a former captain of Genoa, who died in 2002 at the age of 42, and Adriano Lombardi, a former Como midfielder who died last year, aged 62.

Having survived with the disease for more than 40 years, Stephen Hawking, the astrophysicist, is a rare exception: most patients die within five years of their diagnosis. According to Paul Wicks, a British expert on the condition, doctors cite it as “the one they would not want to get”.

Why Italian footballers should be so vulnerable is baffling the experts.

“Some say it could be due to doping, but if that’s the case then why aren’t other sports similarly affected?” said Paolo Zeppilli, the Italian national team’s doctor. Meanwhile, Guariniello said that inquiries had been made about cycling, basketball and volleyball, but in those sports “not a single case emerged”.

Other European countries, including Britain, are taking note. Spain says it knows of no cases among its footballers and French doctors also were unaware of any link between football and the disease, but note that mysterious “clusters” of sufferers have occurred at different times in different parts of the world.

“In Chicago 11 victims were found in the same building and we have never even begun to understand why,” said Vincent Meininger, one of France’s leading neurologists.

Wicks, a neuro-psychologist who runs PatientsLikeMe, an online support group for people suffering from a number of neurological conditions including MND and Parkinson’s disease, believes that there may be an “athletic gene” that makes people more vulnerable. He said an American study had found that a disproportionate number of sufferers had played sports at university level. “It is probably a combination of genetic predisposition and environmental factors,” he said.

The Italian magistrate, whose interest sprang from an inquiry into illegal doping in the country’s top league – Serie A – in the late 1990s, has ordered stadium groundsmen to be questioned about pesticides used over the past 50 years.

He has sent investigators to victims’ bedsides to reconstruct their careers with a special emphasis on the injuries they might have sustained, the drugs they took and the fields they played on. Italian players are understandably concerned.

“If you look at the statistics for the number of players affected, there is reason to be worried,” said Fabio Cannavaro, the Italy and Real Madrid defender.

Borgonovo’s plight has moved the nation. The Dutch former star Ruud Gullit, his old teammate, was among the big names who turned out for a friendly match between Fiorentina and AC Milan to raise money for research. Borgonovo, who has set up a foundation to support research into MND, watched from his wheelchair.

“I want to find the money for researchers to find the penicillin of 2008,” he said.

He, for one, does not blame Italy’s favourite game for his plight. “I think it is down to a genetic malformation,” he told an Italian newspaper through a computer that turns his blinks into words, a lengthy and frustrating process.

“Leave football alone,” he added. “If I could go back, I’d put my boots back on and score a 90th-minute goal against Juventus.”

The Italian football federation donated €150,000 (£122,000) out of the revenue from last month’s World Cup qualifier against Montenegro to help to fund a taskforce of scientists in the investigation.

Some players have suggested donating 1% of their salaries to finance research, an idea that will be debated by their union. For once, nobody is grumbling about what they earn.

Certainly hope they find the cause fer this. Me remembers shedding tears reading Dato' Fauzi Omar's moving obituary of the late, great super Mokh & how the disease had transformed a talented athlete (& national hero) into a vegetable.

FFS says way too X-Files la this. Fooking strange or what?


Kerp (Ph.D) said...

boss, MND is only another decease footballers have to be wary about. how about the numerous heart attacks on the field across the globe? remember Marc Vivien-Foe? when we thought these players are as fit as a fiddle, one by one falls to the ground and breathe their last before paramedics could even do their work. its like instant death. i'm sure post mortems will come up with a explanation but their sudden death still puzzles me la.

anfield devotee said...

kerp: yes, me remeners Vivien Foe. But you can understand some players with weak hearst dropping dead from the over exertion on the feild. Can happen. Like Kanu's defective heart was missed by all the medics at Inter.

This is a disease which seems to be striking a certain group of individuals.

Very strange.

Jon-C said...

AD, you interested in joining the MyRAWK boys to watch the LFC legends play at the football master malaysia cup on 7th dec? Offer open to the rest of the LFC supporting clan in FFS too or those who wouldn't mind getting stuck with a bunch of noisy mighty reds ;0).

Mark managed to talk to the organiser to get us 10% discount for MyRAWKites. We need to tally up the numbers to reserved the tickets. Court-side tickets RM89 before discount)

More info at http://www.mastersfootballasia.com

anfield devotee said...

JonC: Becky just told me the line up - babb, McAteer, et al - shit, we'd be heckling our own team fer being fooking shite!

Will let you guys know asap. Dec7 @ Melawati stadium rite?

No comment on the posting?

Achilles said...

AD: Fooking weird indeed. I am surprised with such stagerring numbers, more research is not being done to find the cause of this. I mean, it should be relatively easy to prove or rule out their suspicions right?

I guess i will never have to worry about it, since me don't (can't) play footie. hehehehehee

Jon-C said...

Oh fark "spice boys" legend!

Hmmmm, dunno what to say with regards to MND except i better not make too much headers!

Jon-C said...

sorry the ticket price is RM98 b4 discount..... not the other way round as stated earlier.

anfield devotee said...

JonC: Yup, make surer you only scissor kick every high ball . . . he he.

waaah, RM98 a bit mahal la since me has to pay fer wifey as well (utd also coming rite?).

achilles: Just too weird la if you ask me.

Ridzzy said...

Hey hey! Hello!

Brother Kerp recommended me to feel at home here :)

Weird article.. yes poor vivien foe is the first thing to come to mind.

what makes it more intriguing is this bit..

“The truth is, we just don’t know,” said Adriano Chio, a neurologist and Italy’s foremost expert on the condition.
(x files theme playing in the background)

off topic abit - Is it just me or do you also feel that 08/09 could finally be the year? after so many years of frustration, heartache and irrate hair pulling ( for hair pulling read: houlier years )..

This year, it just feels right. when you have subs & defenders scoring (babel,arbeloa) , a great holding midfielder (mascherano), a large & reliable squad to support the regulars and winning games without captain fantastic and star striker....
finally i think we have it together ... ;)

Anba said...

Strange and also quite scarry when reading about MNS...one can only speculate on the possible causes but its even harder for the sufferer of this disease...just hope that the ppl involved in the research of a cure of this disease can find its cure...
Just wonderin why this type of things doesnt effect the mulut of the dirty politicians all over the world..

Achilles said...

anba: Once they find what causes it, then we can use it on the politicians. This even more reason why they should research and find the cause more quickly.

Life's Like That said...

I don think that MNS only attacks footballers. It must be some other reason. Kind of scary to think that a healthy old ex-footballer can just be incapacitated so quickly. I saw Borgonovo at that charity match and it was such a pitiful sight.

anfield devotee said...

anba: Quite right, why doesn't this shit affect people who deserve it (eg Khir babi).

ridzzy: Welcome to me humble blog. The Marc Vivien Foe case was a heart defect which affects plenty of people from all walks of life. His occupation made it even worse.

This is slightly different in that the number of instances players plying their trade in Italy seem to be more susceptible makes it downright mind boggling.

As fer our chances this year, might me please warn you that me is the MOST fooking PESSIMISTIC Kopite of all time.

So me is just bracing meself fer a spectacular collapse at any time. Having said that, me canna complain bout the start we've made so far though me thinks our profilgacy (eg v Spurs) might be undoing.

Overall, me thinks we still lack a quality wide player (right). Although Kuyt has made that position his own, there are times we need an old fashioned winger to hug the touchline. Pennant just doesn't cut it. Our full backs are average at best.

The most damning statistic is that NO team has ever won the league without having been in the top two the previous season. So it is a BIG ask.

Hope to see you around here more often dude. Might me humbly suggest you check out the MyRAWK site (Malaysian Red & White Kop) fer the nicest bunch of Kopites this side of Anfield.

Will link you to me blog.

Mark said...

He wasn't the first Italian footballer to have been struck by it. Former Genoa captain Gianluca Signorini was stricken by the very same disease and passed away on 6th November 2002. Known fondly as "the captain", Genoa have since withdrawn the no. 6 jersey in his honour. How many players have had their number retired then? Sad.