Christian “Chucho” Benitez died because of heart failure, his Qatari soccer club announced Wednesday.
El Jaish provided no further details about the Ecuadorian’s death, which came shortly after he played in his first match with the club. “The official medical reports were issued by official state entities and stated that the sudden death was caused by heart failure,” the club said in a statement (via BBC Sport).
El Jaish indicated it would pay the expenses involved in returning Benitez’s body to Ecuador.
“Sadness and sorrow prevailed all over the club after hearing the sad news,” the statement said. “El Jaish management assures again its endless support to Christian’s family and stand by their side during this hard time.”
Questions, however, still linger. The 27-year-old’s death. Ermen Benitez, also a former soccer star in Ecuador, told CNN en Español that his son had no cardiac problems and received a clean bill of health before joining El Jaish. “When a football player is signed, they always do tests,” he said, “and he passed.”
The body of Benitez is expected to arrive Thursday in Quito, even as debate continues about high heat in places like Qatar, home of the 2022 World Cup, and the overall number of deaths among young players. From the New York Times’ Rob Hughes:
What is unnerving, unacceptable and apparently unfathomable is the fact that these sudden deaths of players in their prime keep happening. In the past decade, there have been at least 20 professional players who have died in action, or shortly after it.
Marc-Vivien Foé, the Cameroonian, was 26 when he collapsed and died during the FIFA Confederations Cup in Lyon, France, in 2003. Antonio Puerta was 22 when he fell in a Spanish league match, Sevilla vs. Getafe, in 2007. Dani Jarque, his fellow Spaniard, died of heart failure in his hotel room in Italy in 2009.
Miklos Feher, a Hungarian international, died in 2004, while Max Ferreira and Serginho, two Brazilians, died in successive years, in 2003 and 2004.
On and on this list goes. Africans, Asians, Europeans, North and South Americans, men from all climates, all backgrounds, aligned in their choice of career, and in their shockingly untimely demise.
Michel D’Hooghe, the Belgian physician who has long been FIFA’s chief medical adviser, began his own career as a young medic who had to revive a player on the field at Bruges over 40 years ago. That player, like most who have died suddenly in soccer and in other sports, was found during an autopsy to have had undiagnosed congenital heart defects.
Clubs in the richer leagues — in England, Spain and Italy, for example — now have defibrillator, heart resuscitation machines, on hand in case of sudden collapse. And at Tottenham in London a year ago, that saved the life of a Bolton player, Fabrice Muamba.
Two things, however, stand out. The majority of the sudden deaths on soccer fields have come in high summer, when players are stepping up in preseason. And when the heat is unforgiving.