The Claim and Our Verdict
- The claim:A Facebook post published Nov. 27, 2021, claims 108 soccer players have died in the last six months, a fivefold increase when compared to the average death rate in previous years.
- The claim is based on a problematic list of deaths in a news article published Nov. 13, 2021 by the Israeli media organization “Real-Time News.” The list contains names of 108 athletes (soccer players, basketball players, and so on) who have collapsed in a period of one year (from December 2020 to November 2021), rather than the six months purported in the claim.
- The list contains several errors, such as citing an incomplete list from a Wikipedia entry. The list also mentions a player who died in 2019, while it claims to include players who passed away between December 2020 and November 2021.
- A study published Jan. 3, 2022 in the British Journal of Sports Medicine collected data on worldwide cases of sudden deaths between 2014 and 2018. The study was funded by FIFA. It found that a total of 617 players (mean age 34±16 years, 96% men) with sudden death were reported from 67 countries; 142 players (23%) survived. It can be calculated that 95 players died on an average, per annum, between 2014 and 2018. The average death rate of soccer players in the last six months is not 5 times higher as purported in the claim.
- Our ruling: We rate the claim as FALSE.
The Facebook post attached a link to an article published on the Chinese-language online media FanPiece. The article claims that an increasing number of football players have suffered from heart attacks or even cardiac deaths in the past year (especially the past six months). The article cites a report published on the Israeli media organization Real-Time News and claims that 183 professional football players and coaches have suddenly collapsed in the past six months. Among them, 108 football players died. The report considers this number unusual.
The Israeli report published Nov. 13, 2021, was written in Hebrew. The title translates into English as “The epidemic of athletes.” The report proclaims that the death rate of FIFA’s players this year is five times higher than previous years. However, we found multiple errors in the article.
First, the report purportedly cites the number of FIFA’s footballers who died on or near the pitch between 2001 and 2020 on this Wikipedia page. However, the page states that the list is incomplete.
Second, the report also listed 75 athletes who fell ill and 108 athletes who died between December 2020 and November 2021. The links of each athlete’s obituary was also attached in the document. Nonetheless, the list’s time frame for data collection (one year) does not align with that of the claim (six months). The list mentioned above includes not only football players, but also players of other sports, such as basketball and handball. For example, No.4 in the list is former NBA player Wayne Radford; No.5 is the basketball player Clement Leutcheu; No. 6 is the handball player Preminuo Zlatko.
In addition, the 55th athlete in the list is the British athlete Archie Bruce who died in 2019, not December 2020 as purported in the list.
A further keyword search found a paper published Jan. 3, 2022 in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. The study was funded by FIFA. It used a press monitoring application developed by Meltwater company to collect data on worldwide cases of SCD, survived sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) and traumatic sudden death between 2014 and 2018. The data synchronized with existing national Sudden Death Registries. Inclusion criteria were met when sudden death occurred during football-specific activity or up to one hour afterwards. Death during other activities was excluded.
The study found that a total of 617 players (mean age 34±16 years, 96% men) with sudden death were reported from 67 countries; 142 players (23%) survived. It can be calculated that 95 players died on an average, per annum, between 2014 and 2018. The study has some limitations—since many countries lack a duty to report cases of sudden death, cases of sudden death may have been missed which could have impacted the proportion of aetiologies described. The actual number of deaths per annum, therefore, should be higher than the number reported in the study. The average death rate of soccer players in the last six months is not 5 times higher as purported in the claim.
Therefore, we rate the claim as FALSE.
- Facebook post, Nov. 27, 2021.
- Fanpiece, “Uncommon! 108 soccer players have died in the last six months, a fivefold increase in the average death rate of soccer players,” 26, 2021.
- Real-Time News, “מגיפתהאתלטי,”Nov. 13, 2021.
- Wikipedia, “List of association Footballers who death while play.”
- EX NBA, “Ex-NBAer, Indianapolis high school star Wayne Radford dies,” 30, 2021.
- ABS-CBN News, “NCAA: CSB star Clement Leutcheu passes away at 25,” 6, 2021.
- Novi List, “Preminuo Zlatko Saračević, pozlilo mu je nakon utakmice,” Feb. 21, 2021.
- Stuff, “English rugby league player found dead in hotel room after professional debut,” 19, 2019.
- British Journal of Sports Medicine, “FIFA Sudden Death Registry (FIFA-SDR): a prospective, observational study of sudden death in worldwide football from 2014 to 2018,” Jan. 3, 2022.