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A force for good

Delroy Alexander

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So often when we talk about the power of football we typically think in sporting terms.
That outrageous ability of the game to evoke passionate emotions, both positive and negative, in fans, players, administrators, even officials.
Yet, last weekend during the Tottenham Hotspurs versus Bolton Wanderers match we saw just what a force for good the game can and should be.
As someone who has received that call with news of his sporting idol’s unexpected serious illness, it is heartening to see the recovery of Fabrice Muamba, who unexpectedly collapsed due to a heart attack during an FA Cup quarter-final game beamed live around the world.
It did not take long for those involved in the game to realize that something serious was wrong with the former Arsenal and Birmingham City player and Congo refugee.
By the time he was stretchered off, tens of thousands of people on the ground and many more in homes across the globe were wishing him well, chanting his name and hoping he would survive his ordeal.
Muamba has made a miraculous recovery after his heart stopped beating for 78 minutes. He will in the coming months get to understand, as we did, that sport has an amazing ability to heal often fractious wounds. That on occasions such as this, sport is one of the few things – possibly the only thing – that can bring us together without a second thought for our differences.
There is no better universal advert for the game than what happened last weekend. That when the chips are down and real life intrudes on this fantasy we call football, all its actors are united, able to come together and support each other in the name of sport and the marvellous players that give us so much pleasure from it.
It is the sincerity of the feeling and depth of common ground that, regardless of one’s colour, creed or sexuality, is so empowering.
I am positive Muamba and his family will feel it. I know we did during our most difficult times. That often used phrase “the football family” is brought to life in all its glory during times of distress.
The well wishers, the cards, the messages of concern and support are such a wonderful tonic, the game becomes truly larger than life, with the ability to uplift and support in wonderfully powerful ways.
At moments like these we are reminded that football punters, so often maligned for their crass chants and vitriolic abuse, are able to understand what makes the game so great. Those people that kick a round object into an oblong goal are, despite the deification, human. For a short period of time, colours, stripes, badges and breeds mean little.
Our young footballers often believe they are the masters of the universe, so when one so talented is struck down, it touches something in all of us.
That Muamba is a man of colour matters little next to the battle for health and fitness.
Such events also have a startlingly powerful side effect. Men who seem immortal rush for scans and checks they should be having as a matter of routine. Facts that we should know also come rapidly into focus.
One Guardian report, for example, looked at the work of Dr Steve Cox, director of screening at the charity Cardiac Risk in the Young (CRY).
He said sport can significantly increase the risk of a cardiac incident if a person has an underlying condition, as he pressed to get our young to recognize the importance of cardiac screening.
He added: “One in every 300 of the young people that CRY tests will be identified with a potentially life-threatening condition. Every week in Britain, 12 apparently fit and healthy young people, under the age of 35, die from undiagnosed cardiac conditions. 80 per cent of these deaths will occur with no prior symptoms.”
It’s hard to ignore numbers like those. While there are no silver linings to an event like last weekend’s. It does allow us time to pause and remember that our health is all important.
And be reminded us that even as we celebrate the collective humanity of the football family, we should not forget that some unfortunate souls march to a different beat. Such as the pitiful Swansea University student Liam Stacey who finds himself in court as a result of a racially motivated tweet about Muamba’s collapse.
The misguided youth actually puts things into a racial context for us. He was in fact the exception, not the rule. Yet, this one incident of shameful morality could colour a whole stadium full of prejudice, if left unchecked.  
• Delroy Alexander is chairman of the Sacred Sports Foundation, a non-profit charity based in St Lucia. He is a seasoned sports administrator and is a former Chicago Tribune senior investigative business reporter and a Pulitzer Prize-nominated journalist.