Rugby rules, football failures and concussions in sport.

Rugby rules, football failures and concussions in sport.
Photo by Natasha Connell / Unsplash

That old chestnut, but it really won’t go away. The sporting season picked up in autumn with the Euro qualifiers in football and the Rugby World cup in Japan. Both tournaments have gathered more controversy this year over the prevalence of concussion; and over the steps taken by governing bodies to prevent dangerous contact. A simple, independent test for concussion would be a massive boon for all sports. I reported on a possible detection method before; however, we are still a lot of research away from a pitch-side diagnostic test.

The last few years have seen numerous studies showing the damage which contact sports can cause to the brain. This has moved the argument on from whether brain injury can happen to how to make the sports safer. Several codes have introduced new rules to improve player safety, with new tackle rules in rugby and equipment updates in cricket. But as fast as these rules are introduced, loopholes are found.

Football and cynical rule dodging

The UEFA concussion protocol was dodged in a blatantly unsafe fashion recently. A player appeared to be knocked out by a dangerous tackle and was removed from the field, only to return four minutes later. After the match, the manager defended the swift return by claiming the player had not been concussed but was merely acting.

Headway UK noted that this meant either the concussion protocols were ignored, or a professional team used those protocols to seek tactical advantage. Either way, the incident sets a dangerous precedent for grass-root competitions, where younger player seek to emulate their heroes without expert medical assessment on hand.
The incident noted above was covered by inews this week. Their article is worth reading for the arguments that ‘on the issue of impact head injuries, football can and must make improvements quickly and there are no easy excuses.’

Hope for Rugby?

As a kiwi I am torn between enjoying the current Rugby World Cup and cringing at the thought of possible brain damage to players. Fellow fans will know that the rules governing safe and dangerous rugby tackles have been changed in the run up to the cup. This has been causing controversy as the players, referees and coaching staff have been adjusting to the new rules and more warnings and cards have been imposed as a response. 4

Steve Hansen, the All Blacks coach, was asked about the prevalence of red and yellow cards in the tournament this week. He said there was “no point moaning about it, it’s about accepting and getting on with it… A couple of people have been very seriously injured in tackles and in some cases actually passed away. Have we got it 100% right? No. But.. we’ve got a responsibility to try to respond to that and do it the best we can". 5

It was heartening to read an article in which a leading figure in the game was arguing that the rules are there for a reason, and that the coaches and players need to adjust to those rules. It isn’t perfect, but it is getting there.