Disagreements about the proper concussion protocol continue to be a significant issue in the world of football.

Estimated read time 5 min read

Beginning in the upcoming season, the regulations of football will now include the implementation of permanent concussion substitutes. This comes after a three-year testing period in men’s football and is considered a significant development by Fifa’s temporary general secretary, Mattias Grafström. The decision was made based on both data and medical recommendations. However, it is worth mentioning that there are differing opinions within the football community.

The Premier League, PFA and FifPro player unions, and various national associations considered the decision made by the International Football Association Board (Ifab) during their AGM this past weekend to be a rejection. While they were pleased that a new law was added, they had hoped for more action, specifically a testing of temporary concussion substitutes.

The approach to handling suspected concussions involves temporarily taking a player out of the game for 15 minutes for evaluation. If there are any concerns, the player will be permanently removed from the match. This method is considered to be the most effective at the professional level of the sport. Before the meeting, letters were sent to Ifab urging them to test out this method. Unfortunately, this request has been denied for the third time in the last two years.

The president of Fifa, Gianni Infantino, visited the city for the AGM. In a departure from the usual custom, he decided not to participate in the press conference following the meeting, opting to watch a Scottish Premiership game between St Mirren and Aberdeen. However, the evening prior, he spontaneously commented on the subject, stating that temporary concussion substitutions will not be implemented as they prioritize the well-being of the players.

“If one is truly concerned about the well-being of the player, then the player will be substituted and another player will take their place, and that will be the end of the situation. Everything else is simply not adequately safeguarding the players’ heads, but rather just a means of making superficial PR statements.”

Infantino’s comments can be seen as lacking diplomacy when addressing a contentious issue that elicits strong opinions. The individuals who may have been implicated in prioritizing public relations over player safety appeared to react with anger. Despite the commotion that followed, one pressing question remains: is the world of football adequately addressing the issue of concussions?

Harvey Isted being treated for a head injury on the pitchView image in fullscreen

According to Ifab, it has faced challenges in collecting data for its concussion substitution trials, making it difficult to make an informed decision. Ian Maxwell, the Chief Executive of the Scottish Football Association and a member of the Ifab board, stated that obtaining data has been a major hurdle in conducting the trial.

Moreover, the combined statistics – with around 650 instances of concussion substitutes being utilized in 317 competitions over a span of three years – do not indicate a highly cautious approach to the experiment. Studies on the 2016 European Championship and 2018 World Cup for men have shown that potential concussions occurred at a frequency of more than one per match. However, the trial outcomes suggest that such incidents happened less than once per season (although it is worth noting that the duration of trial competitions differs, with the Community Shield being one of the 317).

The effectiveness of the trials and if the competition will enforce the new protocol as law is uncertain. The permanent concussion substitutions will not be required, but will be left to the discretion of competition organizers. Grafström likened this decision to the choice between having five or three substitutes in a match. “As the Ifab body, we present the options to organizers, but it is their decision to implement it or not,” he explained.

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One argument in favor of permanent substitutes for concussions is that it is the most direct method of reducing risk. The belief is that when in doubt, players should sit out for the sake of their health. This eliminates the chance of a false negative on an assessment, which could lead to a player being sent back onto the field at risk of more injury. On the other hand, temporary substitutes ensure that the recommended minimum time is allotted for a concussion assessment, and also removes pressure from coaches, fans, and potential incentives to continue playing.

According to Mark Bullingham, CEO of the English Football Association, there are varying views among medical professionals. Some advocate for the permanent model, citing safety concerns as even during assessments, players are permanently removed. Bullingham, along with other executives from the home nations, holds half of the voting rights on the Ifab board. He acknowledges the debate surrounding the effectiveness of the temporary model.

While there are arguments in favor and against both types of alternative protocols, one has been tested while the other has been disregarded as a maneuver by the leader of Fifa. This implies that politics, rather than the safety of players, is the driving force. Similar to the controversy surrounding rainbow armbands in Qatar or the blue card, which was also rejected after interference from Infantino, there appears to be a pattern of ideas originating from sources outside of the president’s office being swiftly rejected. As long as this continues, football is not fully committed to minimizing the risk of concussions.

Source: theguardian.com

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