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- The number of deaths appears to have originated with an article published Nov. 13, 2021, on an Israeli website, Real Time News. Of the athletes who died and were listed in the article, some had not received the COVID-19 vaccine, while others died following traumatic brain injury, a motorbike accident and heat stroke.
Before the 2022 FIFA World Cup kicked off, an old social media claim resurfaced with a purported list of soccer players and coaches who died in a six-month period.
An Instagram post shared a screenshot of a tweet that said, "108 FIFA registered players/coaches have died in the past 6 months," and showed a story about Scottish soccer player John Fleck collapsing. The Instagram post also included a story headline about professional soccer players receiving their second doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.
"The media will try and hide it," said the Instagram post, which was first shared Dec. 6, 2021. It was flagged Nov. 20 as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram.)
FIFA did not immediately respond to PolitiFact's request for comment.
The figure 108 appears to have originated with an article published Nov. 13, 2021, on an Israeli website, Real Time News. Several 2021 tweets that included the figure cited the article.
The article said, in part, that a growing number of "professional athletes, coaches, and college and youth athletes" have collapsed, and 108 died from heart-related illnesses since the "global vaccination campaign began."
But the first person named in the list, college basketball player Keyontae Johnson, collapsed during a game at Florida State University on Dec. 12, 2020 — two days before the U.S. began distributing COVID-19 vaccines.
Johnson had not received the vaccine when he collapsed, the AP reported on Dec. 17, 2021. The incident occurred months after he tested positive for COVID-19, but doctors later determined the virus did not cause the collapse.
Real Time News also cited professional soccer players, Sergio Aguero and Christian Eriksen, as examples of athletes collapsing because of the vaccine. Those claims have been previously debunked; Aguero's collapse had no relation to the vaccine, and Eriksen had not received the vaccine when he collapsed.
Although the Instagram post suggested the deaths occurred among FIFA-registered players and coaches, the Real Time News article's 108 figure made no such distinction. It included amateur and college athletes across several sports, including volleyball and tennis.
The list included French former soccer player Franck Berrier, who died of a heart attack in August 2021 — two years after he retired from the sport. Berrier had spoken about his heart condition and increased risk of heart attack before the vaccine rollout.
A Reuters reporter found that some people included in the list died from a traumatic brain injury, a motorbike accident, heat stroke and suicide. One of the athletes died in 2019 — well before the development of COVID-19 vaccines.
Studies of COVID-19 vaccines have found a small but increased risk of myocarditis, or inflammation of the heart muscle, for men after receiving mRNA vaccines. But we found no evidence tying the vaccines to the 108 deaths.
We rate the claim that 108 FIFA registered players/coaches have died in the past 6 months False.
Instagram post, Dec. 6, 2021
PolitiFact, Dozens of prominent athletes did not die of heart attacks after COVID-19 vaccination, Nov.19, 2021
PolitiFact, There’s no proof athletes collapsed with heart issues because of COVID-19 vaccination, Dec. 1, 2021
PolitiFact, Why an analysis of COVID-19 vaccines from Florida’s surgeon general is flawed, Oct. 13, 2022
Real Time News, The athlete epidemic, Nov. 13, 2021
The Associated Press, FSU tops Florida 83-71 after Johnson collapses early, Dec. 12, 2020
NBC News, Florida Gators star Keyontae Johnson opens up about on-court collapse, Feb. 17, 2021
JAMA Network, Myocarditis cases reported after mRNA-Based COVID-19 vaccination in the U.S. from December 2020 to August 2021, Jan. 25, 2022
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