Christian Eriksen’s collapse and the reaction to it says a lot. It speaks volumes about who we are and what we stand for, especially as we enter International Men’s Health Week. But it may not say what you think.
There has been rightly much focus in the aftermath on the courageous, selfless and impressive actions of the Danish captain, on Christian Eriksen’s teammates in protecting his (and his family’s) dignity, and the quick and potentially life-saving response of the officials and medics in the stadium. Much too has been made, again rightly in my view, of the risible decision to keep showing live footage of the unfolding, distressing scene and, even more disgracefully, the distraught partner of Christian Eriksen as she arrived on the pitch.
But I fear we are missing a critical point in this sort of post-match analysis. The match should not have taken place. A line should have been drawn. A statement made.
The players, spectators and everyone involved should have been sent home for the night. Not out of respect for Christian Eriksen or through some mawkishness about the near-death experience that had transpired, but because we care about the mental health of everyone present.
UEFA did what they do best – put their priorities and money before all else. Incidentally, they follow in a long tradition of sports administrators doing the same. If you believe they were in a no-win situation and couldn’t have anticipated an unexpected disruption to the tournament, then I suggest you could think about the recent history of major sporting events (including those hit by terrorism, a pandemic, drugs scandals and more besides) and the imagine the contingency planning they do.
I am fortunate to have never watched one of my closest friends, who was also a work colleague, collapse unexpected in the workplace we share, see him receive CPR in front of me (and thousands of others in person and millions of others watching on TV) and then be asked to get right back to work. I have never experienced a traumatic incident at work, with people all around me crying, shouting, dazed, confused, staring into space in shock and then be expected back to my work shortly after. I have not accompanied one of my colleagues as they were carried by paramedics out of the workplace we share, and watch them lifted into an ambulance and drive away with their life in the balance and help comfort his closest loved-ones and then be expected to get back to work.
I could go on.
UEFA’s statement in resuming the match said they responded to a request from the players to play the match that evening. They omitted to tell the world that was because they (UEFA) had only offered the players the option of doing that or coming back to work less than 20 hours later and then play the game.
It would have reflected much better on UEFA had instead of offering this heartless ultimatum, they had instead offered everyone affected some time, some counselling, some space and some respect for what they had experienced. It would have been better if the players, officials and medical staff had been expected to process the trauma they had experienced rather than expected to perform within hours. It would have been better to send a message to the world, including the men of the world who made up most of those on the pitch and many watching from the stands and sofas, that putting your mental health before your work is truly heroic.
The only thing that has sickened me more than seeing Christian Eriksen fall to the floor is the way the footballing world bounced his colleagues back to work before they had chance to catch their breath. It was a huge missed opportunity to discuss mental health, dealing with trauma, talking through experiences and acknowledging fear, pain, grief and anguish. It says something very powerful and sadly it’s not ‘Happy International Men’s Health Week’.