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   Friday, 20 December, 2002, 02:50 GMT
Penalties can damage your health
David Batty sees his penalty saved during England's shoot-out defeat to Argentina
The moment when hearts stopped around the country
British scientists have found medical evidence of something every football fan knows - penalty shoot-outs can be heart-stoppers.

And researchers suggest the method of deciding matches in knock-out tournaments should be banned "on public health grounds."

The British Medical Journal reports the finding that heart attacks increased by 25% when England lost to Argentina in a penalty shoot-out during the 1998 World Cup.

"These findings support the view that heart attacks can be triggered by emotional upset, such as watching your football team lose an important match - particularly those in which there is a penalty shoot-out," the journal said.

Perhaps the lottery of the penalty shoot-out should be abandoned on public health grounds

British Medical Journal

Researchers from the Universities of Bristol and Birmingham said fans would have experienced a fair amount of tension before and during the England-Argentina match, which ended 2-2 after extra-time.

This was intensified by the rivalry between the two countries and the fact that the match required a shoot-out to decide which team went through.

The researchers examined hospital admissions for heart attack, stroke, deliberate self-harm and road traffic injuries on the day of and five days after England's World Cup matches.

They compared these with admissions at the same time in previous and following years, and in the month before the tournament.

'Pysychosocial upheavals'

They found the risk of admission for heart attacks increased by 25% on 30 June - the day of the Argentina match - and the following two days.

Admissions were higher among men than women. But no extra admissions were noted for any of the other medical conditions.

"Preventative efforts should consider strategies for dealing with the effects of acute physical and pysychosocial upheavals," the researchers said.

"Aside from the issues of sporting fairness, perhaps the lottery of the penalty shoot-out should be abandoned on public health grounds."

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