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Concussion awareness in UEFA Euro 2020

The UEFA Euro 2020 commenced on Friday 11 June with 24 nations competing. In the Group F match against Germany on 15 June 2021, French player Benjamin Pavard appeared to be knocked out following a collision with a German player’s knee. He himself reported that he was ‘a little knocked out’ for 10-15 seconds. He then went on to continue playing the rest of the match following a medical assessment lasting several minutes by the team doctor on the pitch.

Following the launch of the UEFA concussion awareness campaign in October 2019 and as a further step towards protecting the health of players, UEFA organised a specific concussion management webinar with the team doctors of the 24 national associations participating in the Euros 2020 competition.

The general secretaries, head coaches and team doctors of the 24 teams participating in UEFA Euro 2020 signed the charter, pledging their support and committing to implement the recommendations, including all players undergoing a neurological baseline test to support concussion management assessment on the field and on return-to-play decisions. For any head injury and/or suspected concussion sustained, guidance suggests that the team doctor should inform UEFA in writing, before the player returns to play or train, that he has passed each of the steps set out in the Graduated Return to Play Protocol referred in the manual of the UEFA Football Doctor Education Programme or equivalent tool, and that the player is fit for the competition or to train.

UEFA have a ‘recognise, report, remove’ policy stating that any collision involving a blow to the head should be recognised and reported so that the referee can stop the match to allow for a concussion assessment can take place. It is then the team doctor’s sole decision as to whether the player should be removed from play and this decision should be followed even where the player or manager feel that the player is able to play. If there is any sign of a possible concussion, the player should be removed from the pitch.

It is unclear whether UEFA concussion guidance was followed on Tuesday evening. If Pavard had any sign of suspected concussion, he should have been removed from the pitch in accordance with the guidance.

A statement from FifPro, the world players’ union, has previously called for the introduction of “a world-class concussion protocol” that would enforce a minimum six-day gradual return to play and pilot temporary concussion substitutions. It is understood that only five domestic leagues, England, the Netherlands, Portugal, Japan and USA, have trialled the use of concussion substitutes, with UEFA opting not to implement a trial in the Euro 2020 tournament.

David Withers, a Partner of Irwin Mitchell LLP said:

“There is good awareness of the impact of concussion. It was concerning that Benjamin Pavard was able to re-join the match, after indicating that he had been “knocked out”. In our role, representing seriously injured people, we often see the devastating consequences of what seem like mild injuries. There is also greater awareness of the impact of repeated blows to the head such as, for example, heading a football. It is vital, in our view, for there to be ongoing discussions and guidance about how best to mitigate the risks associated with head injury. Although we fully recognise the passion that is associated with playing and watching competitive sport, the price should not be long-term health”. 

Kelly Lingard, a solicitor specialising in serious injury cases added: “As with many competitive sports, impacts to the head can be difficult to avoid completely. It is vital that concussion guidance is followed when such head collisions occur to ensure player safety. It was worrying to see that Pavard continued to play without any time off the pitch to properly assess his injuries.

At Irwin Mitchell we see the devastating effects that head injuries can cause for many of our clients. We support charities such as Headway UK who campaign for better concussion awareness and for tournaments, clubs and players alike to adopt concussion protocols to protect players. We also welcome the proposal from FifPro of a world-class concussion protocol which would provide clear and universal guidance on how to deal with concussion sustained in both training and in match play.”

David Withers is a Partner of Irwin Mitchell LLP. He leads a team specialising in serious injury cases. He is also the secretary for the Association of Brain Injury Lawyers’ Brain Injury Special Interest Group. 

Kelly Lingard is a Solicitor at Irwin Mitchell LLP, specialising in serious injury cases. She recently qualified having supported clients who have sustained serious injuries throughout her previous roles and training over the past five years.