We are re-running the 25 most-read posts of 2021. This is at No 13, and was first published on August 11.
SPORTS stars are amongst the fittest people on the planet, but in the last three months there have been 15 reports of top-class athletes collapsing and even dying. These are not the bone and muscle injuries you might expect but heart issues, brain bleeds and unexplained collapse. Covid vaccinations have been implicated although not all conditions can be traced directly back to the jabs and some remain a perplexing mystery.
With their livelihoods at stake as well as their finite careers, many are naturally worried, but that has not stopped the Guardian from slating sports stars who have spoken out against the vaccine. In fact, they called them ‘highly impressionable’ and ‘village idiots’. What the Guardian did not provide was context and they certainly did not mention Olympic Badminton star Gail Emms, who tweeted in June that she ended up in A&E after her first AstraZeneca jab.
Thankfully, high-profile sports stars have refused to stay quiet. In an interview with TCW TV, former Wimbledon tennis champion Pat Cash, 56, made an impassioned plea: ‘Why are young, super-fit, health athletes getting vaccinated who have zero chance of dying of Covid? We’ve vaccinated the elderly and vulnerable. Stop coercing athletes.’ World number one tennis player Novak Djokvic has shunned the vax in favour of natural immunity, and last week world No 3 Stefanos Tsitsipas, 23, said during the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati: ‘The vaccine has not been tested enough, it is new, it has some side-effects. I just see no reason for someone in my age group to need to be vaccinated.’ (An Israeli study shows that natural immunity gives 13 times better protection against Covid than the jab.)
Judging by recent sports deaths and collapses attributed to the vaccine, they are right to be hesitant. Unusual health issues have been reported in football, tennis, badminton, cricket, rowing and volleyball in sportsmen and women from all over the world aged between 23 to 38.
The most recent and youngest case was Irish footballer Roy Butler, 23, a defender for Waterford City, who died four days after he received the Johnson & Johnson Janssen jab on Friday August 13.
According to his aunt Marian Harte and family friend Vera McDonald, he developed a headache within an hour of being vaccinated, began vomiting the following day and suffered convulsions. He was placed in an induced coma.
In the early hours of Tuesday August 17 his aunt tweeted: ‘My 23-year-old nephew is fighting for his life at the minute . . . got the poison on Friday, please pray for him.’ Later that day she tweeted: ‘My beautiful nephew Roy Butler, passed away today, after the miracle “jab” . . . I’m heartbroken and so so angry.’
Butler was buried on Saturday. His case is not an isolated incident. Former West Ham midfield footballer Pedro Obiang, 29, was diagnosed with myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle), a reported side effect of the Pfizer vaccine. His club doctor said he developed it a few days after he received the Pfizer jab. He suffered breathing difficulties during training in early August before being admitted to hospital. Obiang, who now plays for the Italian side Sassuolo and his national team Equatorial Guinea, spent ten days in hospital in Modena and must now rest for six months.
On August 19 Volley News said that Italian volleyball star Francesca Marcon, 38, had suffered pericarditis (inflammation of the sac surrounding the heart) after her second Pfizer jab. Her Instagram account reportedly said she regretted taking the jab: ‘I state that I am not anti-vax, but I was never convinced of taking this vaccine and now I understand why.’
West Indian cricketers Chinelle Henry, 26, and Chedean Nation, 34, collapsed within ten minutes of each other during a match against Pakistan in Antigua. Both women, from Jamaica, were stretchered off the pitch on Friday July 3, two days after their second AstraZeneca vaccination. They recovered but it is not known whether they have suffered lasting damage.
It is not clear whether other suspicious deaths and collapses are linked to vaccination, but they are unusual enough to warrant investigation. Rugby ace Alex Evans, 31, who played for Cwmllynfell Rugby Football Club in South Wales, suffered a fatal cardiac arrest on the pitch during a memorial match for a former teammate on Saturday August 21. And no one will forget the moment Danish and Inter Milan football star Christian Eriksen, 29, suffered a cardiac arrest during a Euros game against Finland on June 12. The fact checkers had a field day after Czech theoretical physicist Luboš Motl tweeted that Eriksen had received a Covid vaccination on May 31. He said that the claim had been verified by Inter Milan’s chief medic, but this was later denied. In a message sent to me via Twitter, Motl now says he does not know. He is suspicious, though: ‘I think it is common sense that they did everything they could to mask his positive vaccination status if it was positive, and I think that it was.’
Earlier this month, Nigerian footballer Samuel Kalu, 23, who plays for French football team Bordeaux, fainted after a ‘dizzy spell’ during a match against Marseille. He resumed playing after treatment but was substituted when he appeared dazed. In Turkey, Besiktas defender Fabrice N’Sakala, 31, from the Democratic Republic of Congo, collapsed on August 21 during a game against the Turkish team Gaziantepspor. He was taken to hospital with no reason given for his collapse and tweeted an alarming picture from his hospital bed showing a number of wires connecting him to an electrocardiogram machine.
A tennis player who does not want to be named commented: ‘The only time I’ve ever heard of any sports star collapsing with a heart attack was footballer Fabrice Muamba in 2012. When Eriksen collapsed, we all thought of Fabrice. It has been happening in tennis too. It’s normal for tennis players to take time out for injury but I’ve never heard a player sit down and say “My heart is racing”. Tennis players are supremely fit and used to playing in intense heat. They have constant health checks and travel with physios and fitness trainers. They’ll measure their hydration levels and lung capacity; keeping fit is a real science.’
Seven men and women tennis players retired unexpectedly last month from various tournaments with different complaints. Petra Kvitová, the 31-year-old Czech player ranked 11 in the world, was playing Germany’s Angelique Kerber, 33, a former number one, when she quit in the second set of the match during the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati. She tweeted: ‘I stayed out there as long as I could. I have been struggling with a stomach issue for several days and unfortunately couldn’t finish the match today.’
French player Gaël Monfils, 34, vomited in a courtside rubbish bin during the same tournament as Kvitová but his Russian opponent Andrey Rublev said it was histrionics and that he was always claiming to be sick.
In the National Bank Open in Toronto earlier this month, the USA’s Taylor Fritz lost to Australian James Duckworth after suffering unexplained heart problems. He later tweeted: ‘Probably one of the weirdest things I’ve ever experienced . . . heart was going absolutely crazy for no reason.’ His ‘fans’ responded to his distress on Twitter with death threats! A match commentator said that Italian player Fabio Fognini, 34, struggled against the German Jan-Lennard Struff and saw a physio and doctor on court.
In the National Bank Open women’s event in Montreal, Czech players Marie Bouzkova, 23, Tereza Martincova, 26, and Australian Ajla Tamljanović, 28, all retired from their matches. Court temperatures were unbearable at 102°F or 39°C but the player who spoke to me still thinks this is unusual.
Weather was not a consideration for two Henley Regatta rowers, William Denegri from Oxford Brookes University, who collapsed and was hauled into a lifeguard boat. Three hours earlier, Maya Gruen from Shrewsbury School had needed medical attention.