By Alan Baldwin
LONDON (Reuters) – Soccer lawmakers are planning to set up a working group to assess possible rule changes that could allow the use of temporary concussion substitutes, the chief medical officer of players’ union FIFPro said on Wednesday.
The International Football Association Board (IFAB), whose members are the four British associations and FIFA, has ‘concussion: assessment and management’ on its agenda as a discussion topic for a meeting in Zurich next Wednesday.
FIFPro medical head Vincent Gouttebarge told Reuters at a player health conference at Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium that any rule changes to improve the handling of concussion were still some way off.
“I spoke to the IFAB yesterday in preparation of this meeting…and they said that obviously their ambition is to have a kind of working group in the next weeks and months,” said Gouttebarge.
“For next Wednesday expectations are not too high, we are going to discuss different scenarios, I guess.
“Changing the laws of the game for concussion assessment is legitimate but also complicated. And it does not happen in one meeting or even in two meetings. We don’t have to be naïve that such a huge agenda point will be resolved in a couple of weeks.”
European soccer body UEFA said in May it wanted concussion guidelines reviewed to ease pressure on doctors and ensure that concussed players do not continue playing.
UEFA said then that it would ask FIFA and IFAB to review the current protocol and consider potential changes to the laws of the game.
The use of temporary head injury substitutes for a period of 10 minutes has been suggested to allow proper assessment of a player.
“Nowadays you just have three minutes and it’s why you see very bad decisions and players who are cleared and go back and need to be substituted again,” said Gouttebarge.
FIFPro has also advocated making instant video replays available to team doctors during a game, as well as an independent doctor to co-assess.
Gouttebarge, a French former professional, said FIFPro first put forward initial recommendations in 2013 and it had taken six years to get this far.
“It has been a long journey and it looks like we have indeed the good momentum because UEFA is following a little bit our lead, FIFA is also moving in the good direction with some particular aspects that we are very pleased with,” he said.
The Frenchman said a ‘return to play’ protocol also needed to be enforced.
“We would like to see that a player who is concussed is not allowed to return to play after three or four days but after five days of recovery,” he said.
Retired Dutch great Marco van Basten, who was also speaking at the conference, said it was hard to come up with a satisfactory rule but something needed to be done.
“For these 10 minutes maybe you should have the possibility to put a player on, because otherwise it’s 10 against 11,” he told reporters.
“I think we have to find a solution (so) that the game continues but also there is not really an advantage of one or the other side in the way you continue.”
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Toby Davis)