MLS Medical Chief Backs FIFA Concussion Plans

Critics Should Trust Team Doctors More, Says American Expert

24.10.2014

The chief medical officer for Major League Soccer (MLS) has defended new plans devised by football's world governing body FIFA for dealing with concussion incidents in matches.

Under the new arrangements, referees will only allow the injured player to stay on the field of play if given the green light by the team doctor.

Some have criticised the new protocols for not including independent medical inspections, on the basis that a club's own medics might be pressurised by coaches into keeping affected players on the field.

However, MLS medical co-ordinator John Gallucci defended FIFA when he spoke to Reuters at the Soccerex Americas Forum in Barbados this week, saying no doctor would risk their own career by taking actions that could end up causing serious harm to a player.

He argued: "I don't think there is any medical professional out there that would garner their licence by saying that an athlete is not concussed and put them back on the pitch.

"I think no matter how much money you throw out there, nobody is going to want to lose their livelihood."

He said the growing awareness of medics of the research into concussion in the sport means "the medical community of soccer definitely are 'getting it'".

Gallucci said the focus on the MLS has been unfairly intense due to several lawsuits going on regarding concussion in the NFL. He  noted that in the latter sport, it is part of the game that very large, heavy men will deliberately collide with each other, whereas in football, physical contact is incidental.

The most important thing to realise, he concluded, is that there is no such thing as "mild" concussion and every injury of this kind must lead to a player leaving the field.

A number of sports have recently adopted new protocols regarding concussion, including the Rugby Football Union in England and the Welsh Rugby Union, both of which involve the greater use of medics to assess players and require coaches, players and officials to learn about the medical condition.

Expert Opinion
The issue of head injuries and concussion in sport is being hotly debated around the world as more and more sports, quite rightly, look to improve their understanding of and reaction to concussions. It is essential that players are protected from the long-term impact head injuries can have. The latest protocols announced by FIFA place responsibility for concussion assessment firmly with the team doctor. The team doctor is under a lot of pressure and it is essential that the decisions reached when assessing head injuries are not influenced by the manager, the team and the player themselves.

“Our work on behalf of victims of serious head injuries means we see the consequences that such incidents can have in the short and long-term, so we understand the problem and hope these measures will go some way to advancing the debate and understanding about the effects of concussion in football around the world.”
Ian Christian, Partner