December 5, 2022

Volume XII, Number 339

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Concussion Protocol in Sport: Is Sport Doing Enough?

The immediate as well as long-term risks of concussion are an ever-topical point of discussion within sport, and one that Sports Shorts has considered previously. Player welfare is regularly called into question, with concerns often voiced as to the quality and thoroughness of head injury assessments and concussion protocols.

Ever since the death of Australian batsman Phil Hughes from being hit by a cricket ball, cricket has come under increased criticism for failing to protect players from concussion – despite new regulations brought in last year. Incidents are all too frequent, particularly in Twenty20 due to the more powerful and risky approach batsman take to innings. Two days after Hughes’ death, umpire and ex-captain of Israel’s cricket team, Hillel Oscar, died after being hit by a cricket ball to the jaw.

Of course, some sports are decidedly safer than others – for example, most people would probably agree that F1 drivers are exposed to far greater risks and dangers than, say, badminton players. It won’t come as any surprise that concussions tend to occur relatively frequently in rugby, hence World Rugby changed its rules last year on tackling to reduce the chance of head injuries (as Sports Shorts discussed here).But any set of rules is only as effective as those who impose them, whether rules on tackling or medical assessment protocol. Former scrum-half Cillian Willis sued Sale Rugby club for clinical negligence, alleging that medical staff did not follow the head injury assessment protocol and should not have cleared him to continue playing after a heavy tackle – the case may come before court early this year.

Some sports are taking measures to improve affairs. F1, for example, approved the introduction of the halo, a safety device that will be affixed to drivers’ cockpits from next season onwards (reported on by Sports Shorts reported here). In some cases, such as cricket, players are taking matters into their own hands: in 2014, Otago Volts Twenty20 bowler Warren Barnes pioneered a specially designed helmet as protection against balls being hit often in excess of 90mph.

So how should sports approach player safety? On the one hand, there’s a lot on the line for teams and players: titles, glory, stardom, money, and so on. Triumph is the order of the day, and, what is more, we wouldn’t want to undermine the appeal of sports or ruin the spectacle. Nor do we don’t want to see players wrapped in cotton-wool or medical assessments after every knock and scrape. On the other hand, governing bodies, teams, clubs and officials have a duty to protect their players and not treat them as commodities.

When it comes to head injuries and concussions, it’s perhaps difficult to argue against policies that err strongly on the side of caution. To that end, effective assessments should be carried out as a matter of course, with players restricted from returning to play in most if not all circumstances.

© Copyright 2022 Squire Patton Boggs (US) LLPNational Law Review, Volume VIII, Number 26
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