October 22, 2014 / 1:28 AM / in 3 years

Trust team doctors over concussion, says MLS medical chief

BRIDGETOWN Barbados (Reuters) - FIFA’s new plans for dealing with concussions have been criticized by some in the United States for not involving an independent medical inspection, but Major League Soccer’s medical chief believes team doctors should be trusted.

The proposed protocol from FIFA states that when a suspected concussion occurs, the referee should stop the game for three minutes, allowing a team doctor to make an on-pitch assessment and decide if the player has a suspected concussion.

Under the plan, a referee would only allow the injured player to continue with the authorization of the team doctor.

But some campaigners have argued that an independent or neutral medical official should make the final call as a team doctor may be influenced by the team’s short-term needs.

John Gallucci, medical coordinator for the MLS, told Reuters at the Soccerex Americas Forum on Tuesday that team doctors would not risk their careers by wrongly putting a player back into the game.

“I don’t think there is any medical professional out there that would garner their license by saying that an athlete is not concussed and put them back on the pitch,” said Gallucci.

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

”Of course in sport there is always a component of concern but I think as medical professions are learning more and more research about the harmful effects of a concussion that’s not treated appropriately, that we can take away that the medical community of soccer definitely are ‘getting it’.

“They understand that it is about being able to diagnose, treat and progress the athlete back to the field safely.”

Cases at the World Cup in Brazil earlier this year and several incidents in England’s Premier League have brought the concussion issue to global attention.

There is, however, a particularly strong focus in the United States, where former NFL players are suing the league over the effects of concussions in that sport.

Gallucci said that while it was vital that everyone in soccer understood the seriousness of concussion injuries, there was no comparison to the risk involved in American football.

“Taking a 350 pound man and having him sprint into another 350 pound man, it is like having two cars run into each other. These (NFL) guys are really trying to run into each other,” he said.

”In soccer, yes, collisions are going to happen but they are not intentionally happening.

“To make a gross comparison of the two sports is very difficult. There is no-one in soccer that truly is going to go after another player and try to go toe-to-toe like they do in the NFL.”

Gallucci said one message that it was important to get through was that there was no such thing as a “mild” concussion.

“I think the most important thing is that everyone around the players understands the importance that it is a traumatic brain injury,” he added.

”I think every healthcare professional, every coach, every referee and every player needs to understand the signs and symptoms and true components of being diagnosed with a concussion and what to do afterwards.

“Research has shown us that you are either concussed or you are not. Concussion is a brain injury.”

Reporting by Simon Evans, editing by Nick Mulvenney

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