IF the world shuddered once more at the heart-related death of a footballer just a few days ago, in Cameroon the passing of Ivory Coast midfielder Cheick Tiote could only have special significance.
As Cameroon’s national team, the Indomitable Lions, prepared for their first Confederations Cup in 14 years, the tragic memories of that tournament in 2003 were rather highlighted by Tiote’s death at a training session in China.
In Cameroon they need no reminder of their own such awful experience, the day that Marc-Vivien Foe died on the pitch in the midst of a Confederations Cup semi-final against Colombia on June 23, 2003.
Their game against Australia comes a day before the anniversary, and Cameroon’s final warm-up game was a friendly with Colombia two weeks ago, the first time the two teams have met since that day in 2003.
The fact that in January this year, Cameroon’s players all pulled on shirts bearing the No.17 in the moments after winning the African Cup of Nations, in the process qualifying for the Confederations Cup, was an immediate tribute to the memory of a player wearing that number when he collapsed in the centre circle in the 72nd minute of the semi-final against Colombia.
His teammates only found out at the end of that game that Foe had been declared dead in the medical centre at the stadium. He was suffering from a hereditary condition called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.
The pre-tournament checks on players that were instituted as a result picked up the heart issues which forced Socceroo Tony Vidmar to miss the 2006 World Cup, though arguments continue about whether the level of heart testing is comprehensive enough.
Foe’s death, in front of TV cameras at a global tournament, was particularly shocking. Under some duress, the French and Cameroon teams subsequently played the final, but with little sense of celebration.
Fourteen years on, the memory of a player who had won the French League with Lyon and established himself at Manchester City is front and centre for the current generation of Lions.
“We want to play well for him – to honour and respect what he did for Cameroon,” midfielder Arnaud Djoum – who has the No.17 shirt at this tournament – told the BBC.
“We want to show a good image of Cameroon for him first.
“In the dressing room, we try not to speak too much about it out of respect for him and his family. It’s something we keep really quiet but we know from each other that we have to give everything and play from heart – like he did.”