Carnage for sportspeople

Kenyan marathon runner, Kelvin Kiptum, was killed in a car crash in February.

At just 24 years old, he was the world record holder for marathons and was expected to soon break the 2-hour mark. While reports still need to be confirmed, it is believed he fell asleep at the wheel, killing himself, his coach and injuring another passenger.

The CEO of MasterDrive, Eugene Herbert, says South Africans can draw a lesson from the tragedy. “The situation in South Africa is no less dire. At least nine soccer players died in car crashes since 2014, three rugby players since 2000, five cricketers since 2010 as well as an Olympian athlete. An official record is not available but from what is available, this is almost 20 lives within two decades.

“Is there an epidemic of car crashes amongst sportspeople in South Africa or is it a worldwide trend? The National Collegiate Athletics Association in the USA says motor vehicle accidents (MVA) is a leading cause of sudden death across all their divisions. In other articles written on the deaths of sportspeople, car crashes are responsible for the majority deaths, particularly over the last two decades.”

While an official study of whether all sportspeople are more vulnerable to car accidents was surprisingly difficult to find, this crude analysis suggests this to be true. “One should be questioning what causes sportspeople to be involved in more crashes and whether this can be changed. The reasons behind most of the crashes is either driving intoxicated (on the part of the sportspeople or the other drivers), reckless driving or fatigue.”

This assortment of causes suggests that theoretically, yes, it can be changed as these are all classified as human error. “The most common cause was driving under the influence of alcohol. Drinking on the part of the athlete should be approached aggressively by team managers. This should include awareness campaigns of the true cost of driving drunk, putting consequences in place should a player contravene this and provide alternative means of getting sportspeople home safely.

“Reducing crashes due to fatigue correlates to drunk driving solutions, to a degree. Research shows that driving fatigued is as dangerous as driving under the influence. Again, those managing sportspeople should take on the burden of getting them home safely rather than placing a teammate behind the wheel after a gruelling day of training or intense games or competitions.”

Reckless driving presents somewhat of a more difficult situation to resolve. “Research conducted by the University of Colorado says that those in highly visible sports, are more prone to engaging in reckless behaviour because of the fraternity developed, distinction received and often development of superiority complexes that they believe places them above the law.

“Thus, creating awareness about reckless driving amongst sportspeople is not likely to effect as much change – it is not a lack of understanding that makes one choose these behaviours but more of a disregard of consequences. Again, it will fall to team management and associations to implement their own codes of conduct with serious consequences (along with legal consequences), if they survive the result of their reckless driving.”

The tragic death of Kiptum shone a light on how often young sportspeople lose their lives or loved ones in car accidents. “Many of the sports stars, both nationally and internationally, were no older than 30. This is a tragedy that those involved in that sportsperson’s career should take seriously,” says Herbert.