Key Figures Call For Law Change

LONDON, ENGLAND – NOVEMBER 29: David Luiz of Arsenal wearing a headband following an injury…

A clash of heads between Wolverhampton Wanderers’ Mexican striker Raul Jimenez and Arsenal’s Brazilian defender David Luiz during Sunday evening’s Premier League
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game between the two clubs has reignited discussions around concussion protocol in professional soccer.

Former players and campaigners have questioned the reaction to the incident and called for the introduction of temporary substitutions in cases where a player is suspected to be suffering from concussion.

The clash occurred in the first half of the match at the Emirates Stadium in north London and resulted in a 10-minute stoppage, with Jimenez, who came off worse, being given oxygen on the pitch before being stretchered away and taken to hospital in an ambulance.

Jimenez suffered a fractured skull, but Wolves released a statement on Monday, which read; “Raul is comfortable following an operation last night, which he underwent in a London hospital. He has since seen his partner Daniela and is now resting. He will remain under observation for a few days while he begins his recovery.”

Wolves went on thank the Arsenal and National Health Service medical staff who attended to the player.

The consequent discussion, however, has centered around the Arsenal club doctors’ decision to allow David Luiz to continue playing after he had taken the blow to the head. Luiz was assessed before returning to the field with blood seeping through a bandage on his head but was eventually withdrawn at half time.

Arsenal have stated that protocol was followed correctly, but questions have arisen as to the suitability of the protocol currently in place.

The brain injury association Headway released a statement addressing the incident, expressing its “anger and disappointment at football’s continued failings to protect its players from concussion.”

The organization’s deputy chief executive Luke Griggs called for temporary substitutions to be introduced to allow doctors more time to assess players who have suffered a blow to the head, as happens in rugby union.

Griggs said, “Too often in football we see players returning to the pitch having undergone a concussion assessment only to be withdrawn a few minutes later when it is clear that they are not fit to continue.

“That is the very reason why we urgently need temporary concussion substitutes in football. You simply cannot take a risk with head injuries. One further blow to the head when concussed could have serious consequences.

“The question that has to be asked is, had the concussion substitutes rule been in place, would Luiz have been allowed to return to the field of play? Would that extra time in the treatment room have led to a different decision being made?

“The concussion protocol clearly states that ‘…anyone with a suspected concussion must be immediately removed from play’, while the sport continues to promote an ‘if in doubt, sit it out’ approach to head injuries.

“Time and time again we are seeing this rhetoric not being borne out by actions on the pitch. Something is not right. This cannot be allowed to continue. How many warnings does football need?”

Whilst the body that governs the laws of soccer, IFAB, has discussed trialing a change that allows extra permanent substitutions in the case of concussion, beginning from the start of the 2020-21 season, it has been criticized for prevaricating and failing to consider the temporary substitute solution.

On the BBC’s Match of the Day 2 highlights program, Premier League record goal scorer Alan Shearer expressed a similar opinion to Griggs on the introduction of temporary substitutions, saying that it is a matter of “life and death”.

“Football needs to get real; it needs to wake up,” Shearer said. “It needs to get serious not next year, not next month, not next week, now. This has been going on far too long, the protocols in football are not acceptable. We are talking about a player’s welfare here. The cricket do it, the NFL do it, rugby union and rugby league have better protocols. We are talking about life and death, players’ careers.”

Former Tottenham Hotspur and Hull City player Ryan Mason, whose career was ended by a head injury aged just 26 has also spoken out on the issue. “I was quite upset to see something like that happen on a football pitch again, it’s very concerning,” Mason told talkSPORT.

“It’s a real shame my incident didn’t change the perception; what is it really going to take for people to start realizing this is something really, really serious? I’ll be honest, I was shocked David Luiz was allowed to play on. I’m not criticizing the Arsenal doctor because there’s a protocol in place and I’m sure he’s followed that.

“But that protocol that is currently in place is not enough; it’s not enough just to have two or three minutes, it’s not enough. It was a bad one; the noise, the impact, the speed of the challenge as well – it was a bad one. It didn’t help that there were no fans and you could actually hear the point of contact… This current protocol we have in place isn’t okay and it’s dangerous.”

On Monday, Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola added his voice to the chorus, backing the idea of temporary substitutions and saying that he believes the current protocol is insufficiently clear.

This discussion around concussion protocol comes in the context of a wider debate about the traumatic effects a soccer career – and in particular repeated heading of the football – can have on players’ brains. Research has found that former professional players are 3.5 times more likely than the general population to die of dementia.

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