Northampton Blamed But Not Punished After George North Played On After Heavy Collision
Expert sport lawyers at Irwin Mitchell have called the decision not to punish Northampton's handling of George North's latest head injury ‘troubling’ and said it shows that despite positive steps, a culture change is needed if authorities, clubs, players and coaches are serious about tackling the problem of concussion in their sport.
An independent three man concussion panel was set up after George North played on after landing on his head in a defeat to Leicester last month.
TV replays showed the Lions star lying motionless after a tackle by Leicester's Adam Thompstone in the game on 3 December, but he returned to play after passing a pitch-side assessment.
Dr Julian Morris issued its findings on Wednesday, ruling that Northampton were wrong to return North to the field of play, but that the club did not “intentionally ignore the player’s best interests”.
North is no stranger to concussion problems and just last year he was forced to take a break from the game after suffering a fourth head injury in five months.
In October 2015, strict guidelines, backed by World Rugby, were introduced which state that any player suspected of being concussed must be removed from play immediately.
A mandatory concussion education programme was also announced and a new campaign launched to change the culture of rugby when it comes to concussions.
Northampton’s Director of Rugby said prior to the release of the report that North has returned to full training and is expected to play against Sale this Friday.
Irwin Mitchell have been calling for stricter guidelines in sport when it comes to concussion and earlier in the year they issued a short report looking at four key areas -Recognise, Replace, Regulations, Responsibility.
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Ian Christian, an expert sports injury lawyer at Irwin Mitchell, feels today’s report is a missed opportunity to make a statement about the seriousness of concussions in sport and feels rugby may need to introduce independent assessments if they’re serious about a culture change at all levels of the game.
“It’s hugely disappointing to see that Northampton have not been held to account for the handling of George North’s injury as it was an chance to make a statement and remind clubs, players and fans how serious an issue it is.
“The concussion protocol can only be effective if the doctor's decision to allow the player to return to play stands up to scrutiny. Which is why the findings and lack of punishment in today’s report feel like a backwards step, with the experts stating that Northampton could and should have done more to prevent North returning to the playing field.
“After a billion dollar court battle in America, the NFL has finally introduced the type of rules around concussion that rugby may need to adopt. In the NFL, if a concussion is identified then the player is removed from play and cannot return until the team physician and an unaffiliated consultant reviews both the video of the play and performs an examination.
“Surely it is now time for all suspected concussions to be reviewed by an independent doctor, without time pressures, which will allow a balanced decision to be made. If that affects the outcome of the game, so be it. Long-term health is more important than winning a game.
“This isn’t the first time George North has played on when all those watching thought he should be off the pitch and it proves that players need protecting from themselves. This was an opportunity for the panel to make a statement about concussion and the importance of a safety first approach and it has been wasted.”
Ian Christian - Partner