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IFAB rejects temporary concussion substitute trial in Premier League

  • 10.03.2023
  • GaryHerbert
  • Personal-injury
  • Personal Injury head injury concussion post concussion syndrome concussion in sport

The International Football Association Board (IFAB) has rejected a trial for temporary concussion substitutes in several major football leagues, including England's Premier League. 

IFAB confirmed its decision to reject a trial in the Premier League, the USA's Major League Soccer and Ligue 1 in France at an annual general meeting which took place in London on 4th March. 

A spokesperson for the Premier League said: “We are disappointed that a temporary concussion substitute trial was not approved considering all available scientific evidence and the overwhelming support from Premier League club doctors.

“While we note that a trial has not been dismissed, we cannot understand the basis for which it has not been approved and remain convinced it should go ahead at the earliest possible opportunity in the interests of player welfare.”

Both the Premier League and the Professional Footballers’ Association wrote to IFAB ahead of the meeting asking for the board to reconsider its initial decision, which was taken at its annual business meeting back in January. That followed a similar request from the World Leagues Forum (WLF) and world players’ union FIFPRO.

However, at the March meeting, president of FIFA Gianni Infantino said : “We have decided to put the health of the players at the top. We started a trial with permanent substitutions. We are still waiting to receive more data, more information. If there is a risk or feeling or possibility that there has been a concussion it’s better to take the player out, to take zero risk.”

It is understood that both WLF and FIFPRO will meet in the coming weeks to assess the situation following yet further rejection of the trial of temporary substitutes.

Those who support the use of temporary concussion substitutes argue that by allowing medics more time to assess a player away from the pitch, more concussions will be recognised and diagnosed, therefore reducing the risk of a concussed player being sent back on to the pitch to continue play. Head of brain health at the PFA, Dr Adam White, said: “We remain committed to improving how brain injuries are managed during games and will continue to work with leagues and player associations from across world football to push for measures that prioritise player safety.”

On the other hand, FIFA reportedly accepts that pushing worldwide education surround the protection of players from brain injury is a priority, but is keen to express it in those terms - brain injury - to underline the seriousness of it, rather than concussion. Furthermore, FIFA also wants to ensure the threshold is low for withdrawing a player with a suspected brain injury. It argues that the temporary model creates a risk of ‘false negatives’ where players are sent back on following the 10-minute assessment.

Gary Herbert, Partner here at Potter Reed Dolan, says that it is disappointing that once again the football authorities seem to be getting things wrong. By allowing only permanent substitutes it increases the pressure on the medic, rather than decreases it as it makes the decision more long-lasting and important. Gary adds:

“At the weekend my 9 year old son was playing rugby and he and his teammate clashed heads whilst trying to tackle the same player.  Both were hurt and lying in the middle of the pitch and the game stopped. Two parents and the referee were quickly in the middle of the pitch trying to work out how badly hurt the kids were, and we and the kids were conscious that the game had stopped around us. I told the referee that we were taking the two children off and that he needed to swap one of the players over to even up the sides (a 9 year old version of temporary substitutes, I guess) so that we could find out how badly hurt the kids were. At that moment time noticeably slowed down, the pressure eased, we were able to calm down and think (and breathe!). We spoke slowly and methodically with the kids to check their memory, their understanding, their speech, and their symptoms so that we could then reach the correct decision.

“I felt this pressure in a game of 7-a-side rugby in the park, and I have no idea how a medic dealing with the pressurised environment of a full football stadium can be expected to reach an all-or-nothing decision with people impatiently waiting around them. Player welfare should be about giving the medics the best chance to make the best decision rather than pressurising them to reach their ‘best guess’ assessment on the pitch as quickly as possible. 

“For those wondering, both kids are fine and although they were both in pain neither of them was concussed. My son was ready to get on the pitch two minutes later but we decided to sit them both out the rest of the day out of an abundance of caution.

Gary Herbert is a Partner in personal injury here at Potter Rees Dolan. Should you have any queries about a head injury in sport or indeed any other aspect of personal injury and wish to speak to Gary or any other member of the team, please contact us on 0800 027 2557 or contact Gary directly.

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