Widespread claims that 108 FIFA soccer players have died in a six-month period in 2021 are not based in fact – nor are suggestions that the alleged deaths are linked to COVID-19 vaccines.
Thousands of social media users have engaged with posts across Facebook, Twitter and Bitchute that make the specific claim about the number of deaths in the six months up to November.
“One hundred and eight young and healthy players in six months!” reads one screenshot shared nearly 700 times (here).
In a video on Bitchute, one man elaborates: “Let’s just pretend that they didn’t take part in a pharmaceutical trial with no long-term data. Let’s pretend it’s not happening. All so we can say those so-called anti-vaxxers were wrong” (here).
However, the cited figure does not relate exclusively to FIFA-registered soccer players. Reuters has also found multiple factual inaccuracies in linking the alleged 108 deaths to COVID-19 vaccines.
The 108 figure initially surfaced in a Hebrew-language article on Real Time News, a website which describes itself as a media organization with “a deep sense of mission and a desire to bring about a fundamental change in public consciousness” (bit.ly/3pnvnrm).
In the article itself, published on Nov. 13 (here), the writer claims 108 “professional athletes, coaches, college and youth athletes” have died since December 2020.
Reuters looked into the list of 108 names provided by Real Time News (bit.ly/32pqrt7 , page 6). It appears to be compiled using news reports of the deaths of 108 people, aged 12 – 64, worldwide.
Among the sports attributed to the names are American football, archery, athletics, badminton, ballet, baseball, basketball, body building, boxing, canoeing, cricket, cycling, field hockey, footvolley, handball, ice hockey, rugby (league and union), soccer, table tennis, tennis, volleyball and weightlifting.
A mixture of sporting levels is included which range from professional, semi-professional, amateur, retired, youth (under 15 years old), high school and college.
There are also four soccer coaches listed among the names, as well as one body building coach, one cricket teacher, one athletics trainer, a golf caddie, a marching band member and a doctor who died while out jogging.
In the Real Time News article, the writer says the majority of the 108 deaths were “heart-related” and highlights that they occurred since the global rollout of COVID-19 vaccines.
The piece adds: “This large amount speaks for itself and tells a very different story from the mantra repeated by the media, according to which, the athletes who refuse to get vaccinated are just a handful of ‘vaccine opponents’”.
While it is true that many of the deaths were linked in news reports to heart issues, there is no current evidence that they prove a common link between COVID-19 vaccines and fatality.
In 53 cases, a cause of death was reported. These include heart attacks brought on by previously known or unknown heart conditions, while others included prior COVID-19 infections, a cerebral aneurysm, a traumatic brain injury, a motorbike accident, one suicide, two suspected suicides, heat stroke, and a rare congenital condition – anomalous origin of coronary artery.
Moreover, one case was reported in August 2019, prior to the pandemic, and another had a family confirm their relative was not vaccinated.
Some of the listed deaths also occurred prior to vaccine rollouts for respective age groups in certain countries.
Three cases did involve speculation of a vaccine link – but this has not been confirmed.
Dr June Raine, chief executive of Britain’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), said at the time that myocarditis and pericarditis remained a “very rare potential risk” with Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, but that sporting exercise was not thought to be a contributing risk.
Reuters presented the claims to FIFA, world soccer’s governing body, which reaffirmed its statement to Reuters in November: “FIFA is not aware of a rise in episodes of cardiac arrests as indicated in your email and no cases have been flagged in relation to individuals receiving a COVID vaccine.
“Generally speaking, FIFA is in regular contact with leading research centres and experts to do research on a variety of medical topics.”
Reuters also reached out to World Athletics, the Rugby Football League (RFL), the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) – which regulates student athletes in more than a thousand North American institutions and conferences – the International Handball Federation (IHF), the International Basketball Federation (FIBA), International Rugby League (IRL), the National Rugby League (NRL) of Australia, the International Cricket Council (ICC), World Rugby and the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) for comment.
A spokesperson for World Athletics said via email: “World Athletics has seen no evidence that supports claims of an increase in the death rate of athletes in the last two years.”
For England’s national governing body for rugby league, the Rugby Football League, another spokesperson added: “There are no indications at all from our playing population that any of the COVID-19 vaccines have had any significant adverse effects on player health or welfare, let alone any suggestion there has been any link to deaths of players.
“The RFL continues to encourage players to vaccinate against COVID-19 for specific sporting reasons, but also as part of the national vaccination effort and public health narrative.”
The National Rugby League (NRL) of Australia also said: “The NRL has not had any deaths related to COVID or COVID vaccines.”
Cardiac Risk in the Young (CRY), a British charity that funds medical research and supports families of young people affected by heart conditions, told Reuters: “It’s important to understand that young sudden cardiac death (in both sportspeople and the general population) is tragically not a new phenomenon.”
It pointed Reuters toward data published in 2008, which showed 12 ‘apparently fit and healthy’ young people (aged 35 and under) die in the United Kingdom every week from previously undiagnosed heart conditions (www.c-r-y.org.uk/statistics/ and here).
No evidence. Claims that 108 FIFA soccer players died in 2021 are based on a problematic list of deaths in an Israeli news article. The list does not prove a common link between the deaths of athletes and COVID-19 vaccines.
This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our fact-checking work here .
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.