Adamant Anwar Ali willing to take chances on return to the football field

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Shared News: December 6, 2020 8:38:17 am
Anwar Ali, who’s been diagnosed with a heart problem, in action during Himachal Football League tie on Wednesday. (Jasbir Malhi)

Anwar Ali’s love for football has come up against overwhelming medical advice coaxing him to stop playing the game he loves. The 20-year-old turned out for Techtro Swades United FC against SAI Football Academy, Kangra in the Himachal Football league, albeit with massive disclaimers printed in bold warning him of the risks.

The ground at Khad village, with a population of 1,200, an uneven ground along a rivulet flanked by hills and fields and a cremation ground and is worlds away from the U-17 World Cup where Ali first came to the fore.

Detected with a congenital heart condition Hypertrophic Cardio Myopathy later, that saw the All India Football Federation (AIFF) step in to stop him, Ali returned last fortnight on the back of a Delhi High Court order that allowed him to play till AIFF takes a final decision.

Anwar Ali

Medical experts in Mumbai as well as France, where he went for further checks, termed Anwar Ali’s heart condition too risky to play.

Two ambulances with Automated External Defibrillators are stationed outside the ground. But medical support needed for a case like him – constant monitoring by a cardiologist – is not vouched for.

Ali’s father Razak herds cattle at Chumo village near Jalandhar. The youngest of four children, Ali’s skills as defender in the 2017 U-17 World Cup would result in a contract with ISL’s Mumbai City FC the following year. Six months later, he would get a national call-up under coach Igor Stimac. But the muscle condition, in which the heart walls thicken affecting pumping of the blood, was found soon after.

Matters of the heart

Medical experts in Mumbai as well as France, where he went for further checks, termed Ali’s heart condition too risky to play. “When they told about the congenital heart condition, I did not understand. I played like that my whole life and what changed with that diagnosis? I was bit depressed for a day or two but when I talked with my parents, I realised that if I have to play, I have to play,” Ali told The Media.

“Death can happen anytime, whether it be an accident or outside football. When my father got to know about the medical condition, his only words were ‘Allah chahega toh tu football khelega (if God wishes, you will play football).”

An AIFF official said: “The AFC has warned that the condition Anwar is suffering can cause cardiac arrest and hence, have recommended he should be restricted from competitive sports activity. We will decide what is in the best interest of the player.”

Glimmer of hope

But his desperation would see Ali seek out playing time on his own. “When doctors in France termed it too risky, I told them I was ready to take the risk. On my return, I was getting frustrated sitting in Mumbai and waiting. So, I would pick up my kit and pay private turfs for training. Playing football for those 1-2 hours made me train my mind that everything is like earlier in my life,” says Ali.

His mentor Ranjit Bajaj also approached chairman of England Football Association’s cardiology consensus panel and lead cardiologist for the London Olympics, Sanjay Sharma. Sharma concluded, after deliberating on the risks, that athletes like Ali can play competitive sport provided there is regular surveillance. “I don’t even know how to spell the heart condition. And I want it to remain that way. The only change which I have made is that I have gone totally vegan now,” says Ali. The letter, excerpts of which are provided by Bajaj, also says there’s a 2.5 per cent additional risk compared to someone leading a sedentary life. Bajaj believes he’s done due diligence. “I had to prove to the world after the High Court order and medical experts’ opinion that he can play for 90 minutes in a full professional senior division match. The fact that he has played two matches in three days in the Himachal Pradesh League proves his fitness and the same was said by Dr Sharma. He had opined that there is evidence of players with similar conditions playing in the Premier League and other European leagues, so what’s the problem with Anwar Ali playing in India?”

Willing to take the risk

However, Bajaj will not take responsibility. “I am his guardian, agent and mentor. For the Himachal Football League, Anwar has signed a one-month contract with Techtro Swades United and also a contract owning all the risk on himself. He is also ready to give the same affidavit to AIFF, state associations and any club that signs him.”

Anwar Ali

Ali returned last fortnight on the back of a Delhi High Court order that allowed him to play till AIFF takes a final decision. (Jasbir Malhi)

A mention about some of the international footballers like Fabrice Muamba, who collapsed in the middle of a Premier League match in 2012, and British media reporting him to be suffering from HCM, draws a blank from Ali. “I don’t think or read about such medical conditions in the past. The only international footballer I read about is Sergio Ramos. It’s all in the mind and all these months, I have not thought about the medical condition but about being a footballer. That’s what my father and family wanted and that’s what I want. I dream to play for India one day,” says Ali.

Ali has savings of close to Rs 15 lakh and believes whatever has to happen, will happen. “Whether local or any club, I am happy playing. And while it’s completely my risk, I want all to see and treat me like they did earlier. There has been no change in my approach and nor do I want to let this affect my approach to football or life,” says Ali.

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