UEFA’s Campaign on Concussion Awareness
For the last few years, I have been campaigning about raising awareness of how concussion is (mis)managed in sport. Whilst I’ve spoken about a number of sports, including rugby, cricket and American football, I often focus on football. This is probably because I follow it the most, but also because I think it’s the sport consistently letting down its players by adopting limited safety assessments.
Well, it seems all the shouting may be working. Slowly, but surely, there’s an increased spotlight on concussion management in football, highlighting what’s not working and what needs to be done.
On 1st October 2019, UEFA announced that they were launching a new campaign on concussion awareness, saying “The campaign is designed to educate players, coaches, referees, doctors and the general public about concussion, and the importance of respecting a team doctor’s decisions when a player has suffered suspected or definite concussion.”
So what does the campaign say and does it go far enough to protect athletes?
In their statement, UEFA admit that the UEFA Medical Committee now acknowledge the current rule, allowing an on-pitch assessment of up to three minutes by the team doctor, “may be insufficient and that, with such a limited amount of time, doctors could be subject to excessive pressure from players and team officials”.
I wholeheartedly agree with this and wrote about the unfair pressure put on team doctors to declare players fit to play, back in May 2019.
Tim Meyer, chairman of the UEFA Medical Committee, commented: “We must keep addressing the issue of concussed players continuing match play. UEFA’s core message in this awareness campaign is aimed at protecting the players’ health, and we hope in particular that the campaign will raise greater awareness of the need to take all head injuries seriously.”
Following the feedback from the UEFA Medical Committee, UEFA took three steps:
- It immediately introduced a concussion awareness poster, “which was displayed in all dressing rooms, medical rooms and referees’ rooms, reminding match participants about the procedure as well as to respect the decision of the team doctor.” Unfortunately, many footballers themselves are keen to get back on the pitch so it’s important that education and awareness are enforced at every level.
- It created a VAR-style “medical video review system to all teams playing in the finals of the UEFA Champions League, UEFA Europa League, UEFA Women’s Champions League, UEFA Super Cup and UEFA Nations League, which allowed doctors to review live match footage and assess potential concussion incidents.”; and finally
- It contacted FIFA, football’s world governing body and the International Football Association Board, football’s lawmakers, asking for changes to be made in procedures. Specifically, it asked for temporary concussion substitutions, in the hope that this would relieve the pressure on medical staff and on the teams, to ensure that the injured athlete was able to be assessed off the pitch without limitations on time. No decision yet has been made on this.
As part of their new campaign, UEFA have produced a video, which focuses on three key words – recognise, report and remove:
- Calling on players to recognise signs of a head injury;
- Advising players to report the injury to the referee, so that a doctor can be called for an assessment. Players are reminded not to touch or move the player in any way;
- Reminding players that the team doctor has a duty to remove an athlete from the field if there are any concerns of concussion, and that this decision must always be respected
The video can be seen on the link below:
The work that UEFA is putting into raising awareness and improving standards for concussion management in football is a step in the right direction. It’s great to see a focus on educating players and coaches, as well as pressure being put on governing bodies to update the rules accordingly.
The bottom line is that concussion is likely to always be a part of any contact sport. The recommendations that are being proposed by doctors, players and charities only seek to safeguard players and not to ‘ruin’ the authenticity of the game.
In an ideal world, I would want the changes to go further to replace team doctors with an independent neurologist for anyone suspected of having a brain injury. This would further remove any bias and also allow for specialist doctors to make informed decisions about the likely risks.
In addition to my blogs linked above, you can read further comments from me about brain injury in football using the links below:
Ipek Tugcu is an associate solicitor at Bolt Burdon Kemp specialising in Adult Brain Injury claims. If you feel you may have a claim or are enquiring on behalf of a loved one, contact Ipek free of charge and in confidence on 020 7288 4849 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Alternatively, complete this form and one of the solicitors in the Adult Brain Injury team will contact you. Find out more about the Adult Brain Injury team.