FIFA’s sports concussion policy sends wrong message to soccer players

Soccer-Head-ball-adultsGermany’s Christoph Kramer is a World Cup Superstar. He’s also a symbol of an extremely flawed sports concussion policy. Kramer was knocked out and lost consciousness 17 minutes into the World Cup final match. Germany’s team doctor allowed him to play for another 15 minutes, finally allowing him to be removed from the game as he fell over.

“Unfortunately, this is not an isolated case,” says Michael J. O’Brien, MD, director of the sports concussion clinic at Boston Children’s Hospital. O’Brien cites Uruguay’s Álvaro Pereira. When Pereira was knocked out cold during a first-round match, the team doctor called him out. The doctor’s decision was overruled by Pereira and the coach.

“We need an agreed upon set of rules for handling players with symptoms of concussion. These rules need to be applied in all cases—whether it’s the World Cup Final or a pre-season scrimmage,” says O’Brien.

The professional athlete risks his health when he plays impaired or concussed, and also sends the wrong message to youth sports’ players and coaches. “Kids identify with professional athletes,” says O’Brien. “Aspiring soccer players try to emulate pros, even their risky behavior.”

A two-part solution

Socceer-gameO’Brien and other experts recommend a complete shift in FIFA’s concussion policy. Suggestions include:

  • providing time to assess players with suspected concussion (current player substitution rules require teams to play with one less athlete on the field while a doctor assesses the injured player, which creates a disincentive for sideline assessment)
  • authorizing an independent physician, rather than a team physician, to remove a concussed player from the game
  • implementing a standard, science-based protocol to sports concussion assessment and return to play

Parents and coaches can be part of the solution, too, says O’Brien. “We need a culture change. It’s important for parents, players and coaches to determine youth sports goals and set limits. Is the goal to stay healthy and have fun? Does possible victory merit pushing through injury and increasing risks to player’s health?”

Do you want to learn more about protecting players from head injury? Download Boston Children’s concussion prevention guide.