Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Losing focus on concussion

An opinion post from yours truly on the head-in-the-sand approach by sporting authorities on concussion…

Rugby Opinion

I know I love to throw out the odd pun now and again to get a giggle, but make no mistake that I am totally serious when I say that for the people who run ALL contact sports to take serious action in the area of concussion is a “no-brainer”.

Rugby is of course my sport of choice, but I do enjoy others, with US sports among them and yes, even soccer.

Just last Sunday my favourite English soccer club Tottenham Hotspur played a match in the Premier League against Everton at Goodison Park in Liverpool. 

In the second half of the game their goalkeeper, French international Hugo Lloris, came bravely off his line to collect a through ball and his reward was a knee to the head by the onrushing Everton striker Romelu Lukaku, and as a result Lloris fell face-first to the ground with his arms by his side, always a sure sign of loss of consciousness.

To cut a long story (which resulted in 9 minutes injury time) short, when he came to, he insisted on playing the rest of the match.  So he did.  And before the full-time whistle, he denied a certain Everton goal with an impressive point blank save.

Even though I am a Spurs fan through and through, I don’t think he should have had a say in whether he remained on the pitch.  And the good save doesn’t prove anything in my book either.

Here is what should have happened…

  • an independent doctor should have made a determination that he could not continue, with legislation to back him up with authority above both teams and the match official
  • As it happened in this particular match, Spurs had not made all of their allotted substitutions, so Brad Freidel could have taken Lloris’ place.  However, there should be a rule whereby an extra substitution can be made for any player when a determination of concussion is made, to eliminate the possibility of the outcome of the match entering into the decision-making process.

There is a very obvious reason why we must take action like this.  For our kids.  If they see their heroes determined to play on, they will want to do the same if something similar happens to them.

And while I am criticising the actions of my favourite soccer team, I must also include my favourite all-time rugby player Brian O’Driscoll into this equation, as on more than one occasion he has played on when perhaps he shouldn’t have.  Freeman of Dublin he may be and deservedly so, but even he shouldn’t be immune to doctor’s advice.

What happened to Hugo Lloris is unusual in soccer, but in rugby union in particular where the play continues after the tackle, it is a situation that can occur more than once in any given match on any given day.

This is an area where policies need to be formed exclusively on the advice of medical experts.  The human brain may be a complex entity that even they don’t fully understand, but I would be a lot happier with faith being put in them rather than into those who are looking for league points or a place in a cup final.

Most crucially these decisions MUST be taken proactively.  What happened with the NFL over the years is only (excuse yet another shocking pun) coming to a head now, yet even with all the overwhelming evidence of serious injuries, the only action they have taken is to payoff the already injured to shut them up, as well as legally protecting themselves against future suits by re-working contracts.

One major problem rugby union has is the irony around the word “union”.  The IRB should be there to take the lead in this matter, but what the game has in reality is all individual unions being allowed to do their own thing with little or no impression given of a united front on anything.

Sure, they have come up with policies and websites, guidelines and sound bites, but I still don’t see clear evidence of a framework that shows that a head injury that happens to one player, for example, in the RaboPro12 will be handled in almost exactly the same sensible way as one in the ITM Cup in New Zealand.

Well if they can’t act together on European competitions, and if they can’t act together on disciplinary action, surely they can at least give us some hope by acting together on this crucial issue of concussion, BEFORE anyone gets seriously injured.

No sporting victory of any kind is worth the risk. JLP

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