The All India Football Federation approved the return of central defender Anwar Ali to professional football, provided the 21-year-old can furnish an affidavit taking full responsibility for his own health, as well as details on the medical precautions that he and his prospective club will take.
Ali was sidelined from professional football after a medical examination in Mumbai in 2019 revealed that he suffered from a heart problem called Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy (HCM). The condition — in which the abnormally thick heart muscle wall affects the pumping of blood — can be worsened by excessive physical exertion and other factors like not acclimating to high temperatures.
“Based on the recommendation of the AIFF Medical Committee, the Ex. Co have asked former junior Indian International footballer Anwar Ali to produce an affidavit claiming full responsibility, along with details of the medical precautions to be taken by him, and his prospective club to make him eligible to play competitive football,” the AIFF website said after an executive committee meeting.
A transfer to Mumbai City FC was set to highlight the promise shown by Ali, one of the members of India’s 2017 U-17 World Cup team. But medical reports, along with consultations with French experts, resulted in the club and its medical contacts coming to the same conclusion – there was no way that Ali could play professional football without the risk of his heart failing.
Experts on the matter have been divided. While Mumbai City FC and their team believed that it was best for Ali to step away from professional football, the chairman of England Football Association’s cardiology consensus panel and the lead cardiologist for the London Olympics said that Ali could continue to play professionally, as long as he was made aware of the risks and was under regular surveillance by an expert team.
After Mumbai City FC terminated his contract, Ali joined Mohammedan Sporting but AIFF put their foot down and insisted that he completely stop playing football. This move resulted in the defender taking the organisation to court, citing that his ‘right to livelihood’ was being challenged. The Delhi High Court took the case, ruled in favour of Ali and said that until the AIFF came to a binding decision on Ali, it couldn’t stop him from playing professionally.
A dangerous proposition
There are many instances of football players suffering with HCM that suffered from heart problems while playing on the pitch. HCM is the reason that caused the then 23-year-old Fabrice Muamba to collapse on the pitch during a match in 2012.
Allowing Ali to play would mean constant surveillance. It would involve medical experts on standby trained in cardio-pulmonary resuscitation and the usage of a defibrillator. It would also mean that the club must have a defibrillator on hand whenever the player is training or competing.