Concussion in sport akin to Russian Roulette?

As the World Cup concludes for another 4 years, the issue of concussion in sport has been highlighted once again.  This follows players being allowed to continue playing after appearing concussed on the pitch.In a World Cup group match, Uraguay’s Alvaro Pereira returned to the pitch after appearing to be knocked unconscious by a blow to the head.   Pereira argued with the team doctor insisting that he return to the pitch and was allowed to continue playing.This was not an isolated case. In the semi final match between Argentina and the Netherlands, Javier Mascherano clashed heads with an opponent and stumbled about before collapsing on the pitch.  Despite appearing to suffer from concussion, he resumed playing a few minutes later.Any athlete with suspected concussion should be immediately removed from play and should not return to activity until they are medically assessed.  An editorial in the Lancet Neurology says the decision on a player’s “fitness to play” should “not be made by those with a vested interest” such as the team doctor and team officials. Instead a return to play decision should be made on an individual basis.

FIFA has been criticised for failing to ensure that players were immediately taken off the pitch and removed from the game.  FIFPro, the footballer’s Union, has called for an investigation into concussion protocols.The issue of concussion has also been in the spotlight for rugby players.  At the Coroner’s Court in Dublin it was recently found that a former amateur rugby player had passed away because of “repeated blows to the head” on the field during his rugby career.   The findings were that Kenny Nuzum, a former player with the Lansdowne club in Dublin had died because of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) otherwise known as “punch-drunk syndrome”.CTE has also been a major talking point in America. A large group of families of former NFL players took legal proceedings against the league’s governing body and were awarded over $700m in compensation as a result of the negligence of the NFL in failing to warn the players of the dangers of repeated blows to the head.   Many died having experienced severe CTE.

Experts have warned in recent years that rugby could have a major problem on its hands with CTE.  Dr Barry O’Driscoll, uncle of former player Brian, and a leading voice on concussion in rugby, has said the sport’s attitude to head trauma is akin to “Russian Roulette”.  Many former players have spoken of their experiences of concussion and how it is the greatest crisis facing sport. there are still a lot of changes needed to protect athletes.  Education of players and the public alike is essential in preventing, recognising, and responding to the effects of concussion in sport.  Let’s hope that in 4 years when the 2018 World Cup takes place, football and other sports will be safer for players.

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