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Explained: Why Indian footballer Anwar Ali moved the Delhi HC to let him play

Junior India international player Anwar Ali, who has been diagnosed with a congenital heart condition, has argued that his "right to livelihood" cannot be taken away.

Written by Mihir Vasavda , Edited by Explained Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: October 7, 2020 12:20:37 pm
Anwar Ali kicks the ball during the FIFA U-17 World Cup match against Colombia in New Delhi, October 9, 2017. (AP Photo: Tsering Topgyal)

Junior India international player Anwar Ali has filed a writ petition in the Delhi High Court against the All India Football Federation’s (AIFF) ‘recommendation’ that he should not be allowed to play professionally, as it would put his health at risk.

Ali, who has been diagnosed with a congenital heart condition, has argued that his ‘right to livelihood’ cannot be taken away and his lawyer has also cited certain procedural lapses by the AIFF. Ali’s petition is likely to be heard on Thursday.

What is the Anwar Ali case?

The 20-year-old is the breadwinner of his family of six. He is also considered to be among the best up-and-coming players in the country – a technically strong defender with good ability to distribute balls from the back and also a penchant of scoring goals from dead-ball situations.

However, he has been diagnosed with a rare disease, which – according to experts – puts his health at risk if he continues playing competitively.

What condition has Ali been diagnosed with?

Last year, during a medical examination in Mumbai, Ali was diagnosed with a heart problem called Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy (HCM). It is a condition where a portion of the heart becomes thick without any obvious cause. According to FIFA Medical Network, it has an ‘incidence of approximately 1:500 in the general population and it appears to be more common in men…’

Why is it a ‘health risk’?

After being diagnosed, Ali was sent for treatment to Rennes, France, and was also taken to some of the top cardiologists in Mumbai. According to the AIFF, all of them were consistent in their opinion: if Ali continues playing, it would pose a ‘serious risk to his life’.

The medical panels of the AIFF and Asian Football Confederation have also recommended Ali ‘should be restricted from competitive sports activity.’ An AIFF official said: “The AFC has warned that the condition Anwar is suffering can cause cardiac arrest and hence, they have recommended he should be restricted from competitive sports activity.”

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Past instances

Before this Anwar Ali, there was another Anwar Ali, who was also a central defender. In 2017, when he was with East Bengal, the former India international suffered a heart attack while returning home after training. His condition is now stable, but the doctors or the club did not confirm if he had a similar condition.

Internationally, the most prominent case involved Fabrice Muamba, who suffered a heart attack during a Premier League match. The British media reported he, too, was suffering from HCM.

There are some, however, who did not face any issue.

In 2005, months after the on-field death of Brazilian footballer Cristiano Junior following a cardiac arrest during the 2004 Federation Cup final between Dempo and Mohun Bagan, a lot of players had to undergo medical check-ups, according to former India international Dipendu Biswas.

Biswas, who was with Mahindra United back then, claims he too was diagnosed with HCM and Mahindra, after paying all dues and medical expenses, terminated his contract. “But Mohun Bagan signed me and I continued to play for seven years after that. Nothing happened to me,” Biswas says.

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Global practices

According to the FIFA Medical Network: “In general, once an athlete has been diagnosed with HCM they should be counseled against participating in competitive football and other high demand sport – due to the risk of SCD (Sudden Cardiac Death)… The European and American recommendations for risk stratification in HCM can support the decision for exercise… But again, this should not change the recommendations regarding sports participation.”

Why has Ali challenged the AIFF’s recommendation?

In an email to the AIFF dated September 24, Ali has claimed that the ‘act is completely against my fundamental rights, especially my right to earn livelihood and practice my profession.’

His lawyer has argued that if a club is willing to sign him and let him play professionally, the AIFF has ‘no power to ban him’. In his petition, he has also said it is a ‘matter between the club and the player’ and the federation does not have a role.

What happened to Ali’s career after being diagnosed?

Since then, his dreams have crash-landed. His club at the time, Indian Super League side Mumbai City, offered him a different role and even mooted the idea of making him one of the coaches of their youth team. But Ali refused and the contract was mutually terminated.

Recently, he joined Kolkata-based Mohammedan Sporting. Incidentally, Biswas is the technical director of the club. Ali was set to play in the I-League qualifiers, which begin on October 8, but after the AIFF and AFC’s recommendations, Sporting have not registered him for the tournament. The club and the AIFF have said they will try to provide him with an alternate career in football.

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