As Bolton Wanderers midfielder Fabrice Muamba continues his recovery following his on-pitch collapse at White Hart Lane on Saturday, sports organisations here have outlined the steps they have taken to ensure any similar incident would receive the same level of expert response.
However, while the GAA, IRFU, and FAI have brought in screening programmes and other measures across many age groups, at club level, the provision of preventative and reactive care is not as comprehensive.
According to the IRFU, this August it will roll out a first aid training programme called SAFE-Rugby which will provide rugby specific first aid training programmes to clubs in Ireland.
Over 25% of clubs which responded to an IRFU survey last October said they did not have a automated electrical defibrillator. Over 10% of clubs said they did not have a first-aider at games.
A spokesperson said: “The IRFU does not have a compulsory screening process in place for club level players as the number of players make it prohibitive, but all of our professional players are screened and ECG [echocardiogram] is performed where necessary.”
She also said the IRFU had worked closely with Hibernian Healthcare and made a specific rugby first aid course available to clubs.
Feargal McGill, the GAA’s head of games administration and player welfare, said virtually all GAA clubs have access to a defibrillator.
“The GAA’s defibrillator scheme — which began in 2005 — has seen over 1,200 subsidised defibrillators bought by GAA clubs.”
However, “considerably more” defibrillators are in circulation as a large number have been supplied via the Cormac Trust, set up in memory of former Tyrone captain Cormac McAnallen, who died in 2003. Many clubs have also bought the devices independently.
Trained medical staff are present at all intercounty games and Mr McGill said there were numerous stories of lives being saved, including Seaghan Kearney at St Oliver Plunketts GAA Club in Dublin, a spectator at the Wolfe Tones GAA Grounds in Co Clare in 2010, a referee in Co Down last August, a spectator at a ladies’ game in Leitrim last September, and a spectator in Derry last November. Defibrillators were used successfully in Croke Park on spectators on two occasions in recent years.
The FAI operates cardiac screening for all underage international players and Airtricity League clubs in both the Premier and First Divisions. Any player signing to play with a club also undergoes a cardiac screening process.
A spokesman said: “There is a doctor present at all Airtricity League and international matches as well as a defibrillator to meet FAI licensing requirements.”
Dr Deirdre Ward of CRY Ireland, based in Tallaght Hospital, said screening was limited to those people with a history of heart problems in the family, and then to two centres in Dublin both funded by donations.
She told RTÉ Radio One’s Morning Ireland: “At the moment there is not even government funding for the highest risk people in the population.”
She advocated adopting a screening programme like that which operates in Italy, where everyone involved in sport is checked every two years from the age of 12.