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Fifa accused of failing players after rejection of temporary concussion subs trial

Newcastle’s Fabian Schar suffered a concussion in the League Cup final but played the full game  (Getty Images)
Newcastle’s Fabian Schar suffered a concussion in the League Cup final but played the full game (Getty Images)

Fifa has been accused of failing players’ safety after football’s lawmakers refused to approve the introduction of a temporary concussion substitute rule.

The brain injury charity Headway said they were “disappointed” at the decision of The International Football Association Board (IFAB), who on Saturday did not back the Premier League’s support for a trial of temporary concussion substitutes at its general meeting in London.

The Premier League said it “could not understand” why Fifa did not support its stance, which has also been backed by the Professional Footballers’ Association and world players’ union FIFPRO.

A temporary concussion substitute rule would see players suspected of suffering a brain injury removed from play, allowing medics more time to conduct an assessment and reducing the risk of concussed players continuing to play.

However, Fifa president Gianni Infantino has said there needs to be “more data and more information” before a trial can be approved. Infantino said Fifa is “making player health the main priority” and permanent concussion substitutes is a “zero risk” approach. The Premier League introduced the rule following a trial in February 2021.

The Premier League “remains convinced” that temporary concussion substitutes would better protect players’ safety and Luke Griggs, the CEO of Headway, says that IFAB are losing “credibility” by not approving a trial of the rule in the Premier League, as well as France’s Ligue 1 and Major League Soccer in the United States

“We are disappointed that IFAB has yet again refused to introduce a temporary concussion substitute rule,” Griggs said.

“Fifa president Gianni Infantino claims football is ‘making player health the main priority’ by extending the trial of permanent substitutes. But this system has repeatedly failed to protect players as it relies on either medics making an immediate judgement or for a player to risk exacerbating their brain injury by playing on for 10 to 15 minutes to see how they get on.

“Fifa’s claim that the current system represents a ‘zero risk’ approach is not supported by the repeated failures to take an ‘if in doubt, sit it out!’ approach to concussion. These failures are in part due to the pressure placed on medics to make binary and immediate decisions in brief on-pitch assessments thanks to the permanent subs rule.

“Fifa and IFAB have had multiple opportunities to show leadership and introduce this important step for player safety. Frankly, with every IFAB meeting that passes without introduction of this rule, they lose further credibility in the arena of brain health in football.”

Supporters of temporary concussion subs say allowing medics more time to assess a player away from the pitch will pick up more concussions and reduce the risk of a concussed player being sent back out to play.

The PFA’s head of brain health Dr Adam White said: “We remain committed to improving how brain injuries are managed during games and will continue to work with leagues and player associations from across world football to push for measures that prioritise player safety.”

Fifa accepts rolling out education worldwide around protecting players from brain injury is a priority, with the global governing body keen to express it in those terms to underline the seriousness of it, rather than concussion. Fifa also wants to ensure the threshold is low for withdrawing a player with a suspected brain injury.

The temporary model, it argues, creates a risk of ‘false negatives’ where players are sent back on following the 10-minute assessment.

Includes reporting from PA