FIFA Pulls a Red Card on Concussions

It seems as though FIFA needed a good blow to the head—make that five blows to be exact – to change how fútbol treats concussions. There were five serious concussion cases throughout the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. During these instances and other suspected injuries, team doctors only had 20 seconds with an injured player to decide if it was still safe to keep them in the game.

After these 20 seconds, it was not up to the doctor to determine whether they should run back in, but up to the player and their coach instead. Because of this, athletes were not properly assessed and were vulnerable to increased head trauma.

Teammates and officials huddle around a fallen player.

Teammates and officials huddle around a fallen player.

The World Cup was a huge wake up call for FIFA medical professionals, who are now trying to change the rules of how injuries are treated during a game. They want to lengthen the allotted time for examination and give more authority to the team’s doctor. The threatening series of summer concussions also brought a lawsuit to FIFA and U.S. Soccer Associations regarding FIFA’s head injury guidelines.

FIFA’s Medical Chief Michel D’Hooghe and Chief Medical Officer Dr. Jiri Dvorak agree that the team doctor should have the final say over the player’s conditions after a suspected head injury. A professional soccer player may not always think about their safety before running back onto the field, especially when competing in the World Cup. A doctor’s consent could save their health and even their athletic career.

Officials have also reported that three minutes is the minimum time period to complete an injury examination. This is enough time to conduct a physical and neurological exam. This exam will include basic tests such as if he can stay standing and asking the injured player about the score.

One doesn’t have to be a soccer expert to know that a player probably shouldn’t compete if they are unable to stay standing and are unaware of the game’s score. It seems silly to not assess these things when their injuries could lead to catastrophic and sometimes fatal situations. And even with these serious consequences, Dr. D’Hooghe claims that concussions happen once in every 20 soccer games.

Concussions can lead to permanent brain injury.

Concussions can lead to permanent brain injury.

Concerned FIFA officials and players are awaiting the possible rule change on September 18, when the UEFA (Union of European Football Associations) Executive Committee decides if they can enforce the proposed rules on all European Leagues or only games organized by the world body.

The hope is that this controversy in FIFA will protect athletes not only participating in professional soccer, but all professional contact sports worldwide. According to the Associated Press, medical personnel from football, rugby and equestrian circles also participated in a recent conference at the NFL headquarters in New York. Together, the leagues hope to find a way to better prevent, recognize and treat concussions around the world.

There is a need for sports organizations all over the world “to look at all variations of what is being done” in order to prevent injuries, says Chairman of the NFL’s Head, Neck and Spine Committee Dr. Rich Ellenbogen.

The new awareness of concussions should not only affect the safety of current professional athletes, but also younger athletes at the high school and collegiate levels. Safe practices in amateur players could drastically help them when they are recruited for national and international leagues.

After the severe head injuries in the World Cup this summer, it’s a relief to fans to hear that authorities are taking a stand to improve the players’ safety. After all, a fútbol match, even for diehard fans, is still only a game, and a head injury can ruin an athlete’s life. That said, it’s high time FIFA is taking measures to prevent concussions from persisting as an unaddressed threat in international football.

by ALEXIA SWANSON / contributing writer

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