Leagues consider trialling concussion subs in defiance of lawmakers’ decision

Temporary concussion subs were not given IFAB’s backing (Martin Rickett/PA) (PA Wire)
Temporary concussion subs were not given IFAB’s backing (Martin Rickett/PA) (PA Wire)

Unions and leagues will consider the legal impact of pressing ahead with temporary concussion substitute trials in defiance of the game’s lawmakers, it is understood.

World players’ union FIFPRO and the World Leagues Forum had written to the International Football Association Board last month requesting permission to conduct the trial in the Premier League, Ligue 1 and Major League Soccer in their next seasons, but the IFAB could not reach a consensus to give the go-ahead at its annual business meeting at Wembley on Wednesday.

Football Association chief executive and IFAB board member Mark Bullingham, who was supportive of a trial, admitted there was now no chance of one taking place next season.

However, it is understood that may not be the end of the matter, with the trial’s backers now considering all options in light of Wednesday’s decision. This includes consideration of what the legal ramifications for any competition would be if it introduced the protocol anyway.

The United States’ MLS would have been the first competition to have conducted the trial had the go-ahead been given, with its 2023 season starting on February 26.

All eyes will now be on whether that competition, whose representatives are understood to have addressed the IFAB meeting, decides to risk sanctions for adopting the protocol.

The English players’ union, the Professional Footballers’ Association, expressed dismay at the decision, with its head of brain health Dr Adam White saying: “Leagues and player unions are aligned on this and asked IFAB for permission to introduce temporary concussion substitutes from next season.

“There is a fundamental issue if player unions and leagues feel football’s lawmakers are holding them back from doing what they collectively agree is best to protect the safety of players.

“The next step will be for unions and leagues to discuss what this means and what options are available to them.

“We believe the introduction of temporary concussion substitutes is now increasingly seen as a common-sense measure to better protect players.”

FIFPRO and the World Leagues Forum later issued a joint statement, saying they would “further assess the situation” and “consider (their) options moving forward”.

Penny Watson, the wife of former England captain Dave Watson who is now living with dementia, told PA: “I am absolutely seething and dumbfounded. I just cannot understand how that decision came about because I do know certain evidence and lobbying has been put before them.

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“I just cannot understand the negative side of things or what their thinking is behind not approving this. There is nothing to lose. It is just crazy.”

Former Celtic and Chelsea striker Chris Sutton, whose dad Mike – a former footballer –  suffered with dementia before his death in 2020, wrote on Twitter: “When are this current group of players going to actually wise up and make a stand against football’s powers that be so they get the best duty of care… it’s so idiotic”.

Brain injury charity Headway called it a “bitterly disappointing decision” which would “further damage football’s credibility when it comes to brain injury”.

The unions and leagues who made the request believe the temporary concussion substitute protocol offers better protection to players than the existing permanent concussion substitute trials which were first approved in 2020.

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Supporters of the protocol believe it gives medics more time to properly assess players and reduce the risk of them being sent back out to play and risking secondary concussions.

Bullingham said temporary concussion trials would remain under “active review”, but when asked whether a Premier League trial could still happen next season or had been pushed further away, he said: “It’s been pushed further away.

“I tabled it a year ago, I tabled it again today. There are different points of view and they all have merit. I’m probably not the best person to give you both sides of the argument, but there won’t be IFAB support for a trial right now.”

The permanent concussion substitute trial will instead continue indefinitely. FIFA conducted a survey of team doctors that had adopted the trial, and found that 71 per cent supported the permanent concussion substitute model.