Monday, October 18

Headshots are a “time bomb” that FIFA must defuse.

In “The value of sport” we treat the word “VALUE” from an economic and business point of view, but also as ethical and moral values ​​that protect them, such as respect, FairPlay or integrity. Continuing with this pun, we must understand the physical integrity of athletes as a superior value to protect.

Not long ago I was able to see the film “The truth hurts” by Will Smith, a rather unfortunate translation since in English its original title is “Concussion“which could be literally translated as concussion. The feature film exposes the fight that since 2002 the Dr. Bennet Omalu vs. the NFL, upon discovering that the continuous hitting of helmets in American football led to serious brain injuries.

As his environment told him: “You are facing a historic, multimillion dollar business, and the most popular game in the United States, played by children, adolescents, professionals who earn fortunes … It is as if you burned the American flag in the center of a field “. The first phase of this study led him to detect 17 cases of deaths who supported this theory, but the NFL maintained its denial. Finally, the NFL and after a continuous and overwhelming load of evidence had to acknowledge this reality and put action on the matter.

A study from the Journal of American Medical Association revealed that 99% of NFL players suffer brain damage including Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy. When one sees this feature film, a feeling of indignation and helplessness invades him when he sees how the bosses do not protect their players, but this is a problem that extends to the entire sport and whose protocols require a true and immediate review.

Four weeks ago we were in suspense when we saw the terrible clash between Raúl Jiménez and David Luiz, in the match between Arsenal against Wolverhampton. Just two ago, the German striker of Schalke 04, Mark ut He had to be evacuated unconscious after a concussion in the game against Augsburg and we do not know how many situations of this kind will be occurring each week in fields with less media coverage (and medical means).

Raúl Jiménez got the worst of it with a cranial fracture that forced him to be rushed to the hospital and it was impossible not to remember when in 2017 after a similar move, Ryan Mason in a Chelsea-Hull City he suffered a similar impact. Fortunately, the forecast for the Mexican striker is more optimistic than that of Mason who had to retire from soccer after an intervention that required 14 plates joined by 28 screws.

Where i would like to put the focus of this reflection It is not in Jiménez’s bad fortune in a match set, but in the terrible lack of protocols that allowed David Luiz to continue playing the first half, visibly shocked with a mere bandage on his head.

A soccer player has five times the risk of develop neurodegenerative diseases such as alzheimer than the general population. This simple statement should cause FIFA to take action on the matter and try to follow in the wake of other sports that in this situation are becoming conscious of forced marches.

In honor of the truth FIFA has already started this path in the last World Cup event in Russia, empowering doctors so that they could stop the game in the event of possible head injuries. The team doctor could notify the referee to stop the game for 3 minutes and assess the footballer’s condition. If this assessment was negative, the replacement would be mandatory. This protocol suffers from two problems at first glance, the soccer player cannot be evaluated in just 180 seconds, and there is a dependency and conflict of interest as the team doctor performs this evaluation. It would be necessary to have an independent FIFA doctor carry out these evaluations in good time and establish mechanisms to avoid damage to the affected team.

After the aforementioned case that has shocked the Premier League, the IFAB (Board of the International Football Association) has authorized trials to make additional permanent replacements as of January 2021, as long as the federations and competitions of each country request it (we will see if the RFEF and LaLiga join in and do not lose this opportunity). The measure authorizes teams to make as many changes as necessary to replace players who suffer blows to the head after the five tactical substitutions. A great step, but that would not have solved the case of David Luiz who was hit in the 6th minute of the game.

I consider, after reading numerous experts, more effective, to focus on “temporary substitutions“, that allow a player to replace the one who is being examined during said assessment as it happens in Rugby. According to experts, the first blow is serious, but the risk increases exponentially in the face of a subsequent impact at a time of sensitivity This can have dramatic, even fatal consequences for the footballer.

The World rugby It already regulated in 2018 in this sense, passing a law that required players who suffered a blow to the head to leave the field of play, complete a head injury assessment (HIA), and Do not return within 10 minutes.

A few months ago the Australian rugby player Shaun Smith was awarded 1 million dollars for the permanent sequelae derived from the contusions suffered during his professional career. As expected, this case has set a precedent and last week we read in the media that Steve Thompson With a great career in England, he assured that he has dementia, that he does not remember winning the World Cup in 2003 and that along with 7 other former players will sue World Rugby. It is a “time bomb” in these players, who develop symptoms when they are between 40 and 50 years old. “Would I do it again? No, I wouldn’t. I can’t remember. I don’t want to kill the game. I want it regulated.” Thompson claimed.

It is essential to take awareness in professional football so that it is permeable to grassroots football and the little ones. Unfortunately this may only be the tip of the iceberg (in the United States it is not allowed for children under 10 years of age to finish headlong and it is restricted to 11-13 years). Alan Shearer historic English scorer, commented “Football has to wake up to reality, not next month, but right now. The head trauma protocols in football are unacceptable.” The former Newcastle player had already expressed this concern on other occasions, stating “For every goal I score with a header I score a thousand in training, that puts me at risk. You have to be sure that it is not a deadly game”, and does not hide that at 47 years old that he has important gaps in his memory

Watch over the physical integrity of athletes is the minimum requirement that must be met to ensure the integrity of the competition.

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