SEA Games: Well-intentioned act not safe, says doctor

Laos defender Viengkham (right) prevented Cambodia player Phat Sokha from swallowing his tongue after an accident. PHOTO: ASEAN FOOTBALL/FACEBOOK

Legendary Liverpool manager Bill Shankly once said football is more than life and death, but for the Cambodians and Laotians duking it out in a SEA Games football match on Monday, it really wasn’t.

Cambodia were leading 2-0 at the start of the second half when their 19-year-old defender Phat Sokha was knocked out momentarily after clashing heads with Laos’ At Viengkham.

As both teams looked on in concern, defender Viengkham, 21, put his right fingers into his opponent’s mouth to prevent Sokha from swallowing his own tongue.

Following three minutes of medical attention, Sokha got up to his feet to applause from both sets of players and cheers from the crowd. He tapped hands with Viengkham, who was booked for the challenge, and played on for the rest of the match, showing no ill effects as Cambodia eventually won 4-1.

The Laotian Times reported the next day that he was taken to hospital. 

Fans had lauded the Laotian’s act of sportsmanship on social media platform Asean Football, which first put up the photo of Viengkham administering first aid.

Yin Chetra commented on Facebook: “Highly respect from Cambodia. Good sportsmanship is very important act. Sport brings us a good relationship between all Asean countries. Highly appreciated to all Laotian players. We all will remember you.”

However, medical experts say Viengkham’s actions are actually not advisable.

The Sports Medicine Lab medical director Dr Cormac O’Muircheartaigh told The Straits Times: “His actions were well-intentioned and possibly instinctive, or he may have seen it done on other occasions during high-profile games. But it is not the safest approach to take when someone has suffered a head injury during sport.”

The Irishman was previously the Singapore Sports Institute’s medical director. He is also a medical educator with World Rugby and deputy chairman of the Football Association of Singapore’s medical committee.

He added: “In such situations, putting fingers in someone’s mouth can cause the tongue to drop backwards and block the airways. In some cases, loose teeth may also be pushed further in.”

The correct procedure would be to administer the jaw-thrust manoeuvre. With the subject lying on his back, this involves placing each thumb on each cheekbone, and the index and middle fingers underneath the angle of the jaw to lift it skywards to open the airways and prevent the tongue from blocking the airways.

Referencing Ronald Araujo’s clash of heads with Barcelona teammate Gavi in Tuesday’s 3-1 La Liga win over Celta Vigo, he said that it is also possible to roll the subject on to his side to achieve a similar effect, although this may aggravate any potential neck injury.

Dr O’Muircheartaigh also expressed concern that Sokha was allowed to play on. 

He added: “The player at a minimum has suffered a mild traumatic brain injury, consistent with a significant concussion or at worst an acute internal bleed. Based on current international guidelines for head injury and concussion management, this player should not have been permitted to continue playing during the game.”

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