Thulani Ngwenya was seated in the VIP box as a doping control officer of the 2021 AFCON in Cameroon when Sadio Mane had a heads-on collision with Cape Verde goalkeeper, Votinha.
Mane was caught dry and out as he struggled to regain consciousness. He soon stood up and went on to score in the game at the Olembe Stadium but Ngwenya, the Chief Medical Officer of the South African Football Association was sure all wasn’t well with the former Liverpool star.
Outside his official role, Ngwenya ran to the field from the VIP area and overruled the declaration of the Senegalese medical officials who passed Mane fit to continue.
That action, Ngwenya said could have potentially saved Mane from sustaining a career-ending injury.
“I was sitting in the VIP tribune and had my people helping me with doping control doing their things down there,” Ngwenya told Marsha Sports Worldwide, per Times Live.
“Then I saw the header [and head clash] of Sadio with the goalkeeper. He went down and went out. There’s something tricky there — he was out for a few seconds.
“[Medical] colleagues came in, they assessed him, they said, ‘No, go back and play’. Sadio went and scored the goal that took Senegal to the net stage of the competition.
“But Sadio was still concussed. Because I saw what happened I had to rush down, but when I got there they were already celebrating a goal.
“I spoke to the fourth official to say: ‘Sadio is not fine, and I understand the colleagues took a decision but I cannot as a Caf [Conferedation of African Football] representative stand there and allow that to happen.’
“The match officials understood that and I used a bit of authority and stopped the game. I went in, called the doctors from Senegal and said, ‘He needs to go out’.
“Fortunately they agreed. Sadio pulled out and we found out he was concussed. Liverpool were grateful and sent messages thanking us for saving Sadio.”
While Ngwenya had played his role expertly as a medical officer, he went on to defend the decision of the Senegalese medical team to leave Mane on the pitch. With the international media questioning the logic of leaving the player to continue, the SAFA medical officer saved his colleagues what could potentially be embarrassing.
Concussion has become one of football’s leading problems and national and regional associations have set up plans to ensure it’s promptly attended to.