David McWilliam
Partner, Solicitor and Head of Personal Injury & Sports Law
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Date Published:26 Mar 2021 Last Updated:22 Jul 2021

Concussion in Football

Sports Law

Last week, I attended a 2 day conference on Concussion & Sport. You may have seen the recent reports of legal action in Rugby Union and Football and the conference dealt with these issues in detail with a number of high profile speakers.

The Football Authorities response to this increasing problem was discussed and what was clear to everyone is that Concussion is a massive problem in football. Concussions are very common and the repetitive nature of heading the ball over many years is more of an issue than an actual direct head injury to a player.

Dawn Astle whose Father, Jeff Astle died in 2002 after a long football career is leading the campaign for the authorities to act. He will be remembered as the first British professional footballer confirmed to have died from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a progressive, degenerative brain disease found in individuals (usually athletes) with a history of head injury, often as a result of multiple concussions. It was the repeated low level brain trauma caused by the repeated heading of footballs. See www.thejeffastlefoundation.co.uk

Concussion awareness has increased recently and in February 2021 the International Football Association Board (IFAB) trialled Concussion substitutes in the English Premier League and the Women’s Super League. Medical staff are allowed 3 minutes on the pitch to make an assessment for concussion. A Tunnel doctor will review video footage of the incident. If they are in any doubt on concussion, the player should be removed from the pitch permanently. That team is then allowed to make a concussion substitute. The other team can also make an additional substitution to ensure that both teams are on a level playing field.

In an FA Cup tie between Man Utd and West Ham on 9th February 2021, the first concussion substitute was used. West Ham’s Issa Diop was injured in a clash of heads. He had a 2 minute on pitch assessment and was deemed fit to continue. He played the remaining 7 minutes until half-time but was then taken off due to a concussion injury. Dawn Astle was very critical of this as anything could have happened to him in that 7 minute period. He could have suffered a second impact syndrome, which can be fatal. She left the delegates in no doubt that Football has a great deal more to do to deal with the problem.

There are discussions about limiting heading in training with the Football Association looking into Guidelines for children heading the ball. However, how that is policed in training sessions needs to be looked at.

This month there was a Parliamentary Committee hearing about this. The FA’s Chief Medical Officer, Charlotte Cowie failed to provide the figure that they have spent on head injury research. The Chairman was criticised this failure to provide the figure and said “I am absolutely appalled. I think you are too embarrassed.” It is thought that the figure is a six-figure sum whereas Rugby Union’s Chief Executive has stated that they have spent £350,000 on injuries, of which head injuries were a large part and committed “millions” of pounds to ongoing research.

Football and all Sport’s Governing Bodies need to act urgently on Concussion injuries.

Our Sports Law and Personal Injury team can advise any footballer or athlete with any concerns about Concussion injuries. Telephone David McWilliam or email him at david.mcwilliam@ellisjones.co.uk