Eriksen shows us football is about players, not politics

Sporting rivalry became global solidarity after the Danish player collapsed during a game against Finland

Denmark's Christian Eriksen controls the ball during the Euro 2020 soccer championship group B match between Denmark and Finland at Parken stadium in Copenhagen, Denmark, Saturday, June 12, 2021. Eriksen collapsed on the pitch and received medical assistance before being taken to hospital. (Wolfgang Rattay/Pool via AP)
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When Danish footballer Christian Eriksen suddenly collapsed during a Euro 2020 match against Finland on Saturday, players near by knew immediately that something was seriously wrong. As cameras filmed the traumatised Danish team standing around Eriksen, everyone in the stadium and those watching on TV, feared the worst.

After a short time, Uefa, the European football association, confirmed that Eriksen was awake and stable in a nearby hospital. Both teams decided to play on "for Christian", said Peter Moller, a member of the Danish Football Union. But Finland's eventual victory was overshadowed by earlier scenes of Eriksen's distraught partner and colleagues.

Suddenly, all of the drama and politics of European football felt distant and insignificant. Spectators gave thought to the intense pressure to which young athletes subject themselves for our entertainment.

epa09266716 Romelu Lukaku of Belgium celebrates after scoring the 1-0 lead during the UEFA EURO 2020 group B preliminary round soccer match between Belgium and Russia in St.Petersburg, Russia, 12 June 2021. Lukaku has dedicated his opening goal for Belgium to his teammate at Inter Milan, Christian Eriksen. Lukaku faced a television camera to say 'Chris, I love you'. Chritian Eriksen collapsed on the pitch towards the end of the first half of the match between Denmark and Finland and received medical treatment on the pitch before being stretchered off and rushed to the nearby Rigshopitalet.  EPA/Dmitry Lovetsky / POOL (RESTRICTIONS: For editorial news reporting purposes only. Images must appear as still images and must not emulate match action video footage. Photographs published in online publications shall have an interval of at least 20 seconds between the posting.)
Belgium's Romelu Lukaku dedicated his opening goal against Russia to Eriksen, his Inter Milan teammate. EPA
Fifa estimates sudden cardiac arrest could claim the life of one footballer every month

Doctors are yet to confirm the cause of Eriksen’s collapse – he was believed to be in perfect health – but early suspicion points to sudden cardiac arrest, a largely indiscriminate and frequently lethal medical emergency that stops the heart from beating, often without any warning. It is not as rare an event in football as many fans of the sport might think. According to Fifa, the world governing body for football, it is estimated to claim the life of one player every month globally.

Eriksen's collapse will top an already-turbulent football news cycle. A recent controversy over a proposal for a European Super League, a breakaway tournament for the continent's most famous clubs, was abandoned after generating huge discontent among fans and much commentary on where the future of the sport lies. And a new round of the culture wars continues to dog Euro 2020 as teams debate whether or not to "take the knee" before games in solidarity of the Black Lives Matter movement. As football fans are considered widely to embody the working-class voter, politicians have inevitably waded into both rows, often stoking the fires in the process.

Today, all is on hold as support for Eriksen pours in from across Europe and beyond. And while he appears to have been spared the worst, his recovery remains fragile – as does his career. In 2012, British footballer Fabrice Muamba almost died in similar circumstances after collapsing during an English FA Cup match between his club, Bolton Wanderers, and Tottenham Hotspur. He survived, despite his heart stopping for 78 minutes, but the then 23-year-old never returned to the game.

For better or worse, football, perhaps more than any other sport on the planet, has the power to stir passions far beyond concern for match results and fascination with the individual lives and accomplishments of its players. Now and then, all of those passions are united in a singular, shared emotion – as they were in the moments after Eriksen's fall. For the first time in a while, the football world paused, and contemplated the huge physical commitment – even sacrifice – of its many young players.