AFL Asked To Take Measures To Mitigate Concussion Risk

The AFL has been asked to implement safety measures to mitigate risk of concussion

As concerns grow over the impact of concussions and other head injuries on players’ physical and mental wellbeing, the AFL could need to make a change to protect their athletes.

DESPITE THE EXTENSIVE safety measures brought into place over the last few decades, head injuries continue to cast a shadow over Australian Rules football. The game has come a long way since its early days, when the cure for a head knock was to have a brief rest on the bench and walk it off before returning to the field. But it still has a long way to go if player welfare is ever going to take priority.

The next step towards holistic player protection could arrive shortly. Following an investigation into the death of former player Shane Tuck, Victoria’s Coroners Court has made 21 recommendations for heightened safety measures to both the AFL and AFLW, which would better protect players’ safety. Among the most impactful of the proposed measures was the recommendation that limits be placed on contact training sessions.

If implemented, these changes would mark a watershed moment for the AFL, drastically changing the way the game has been played and prepared for over the last century.

 

Who is Shane Tuck?

 

Shane Tuck played ten seasons in the AFL from 2004-2013, spending the entirety of his career with the Richmond Tigers. After retiring from footy, he gave professional boxing a try and spent three years in the sport. Tuck died by suicide in 2020, after his mental health rapidly declined. The circumstances of his death and deteriorating mental health were the focus of the coroner’s investigation.

Tuck suffered several head injuries during his sporting career, including a knock-out sustained in his boxing debut, which left him in hospital. In 2021, Tuck was posthumously diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), an incurable, degenerative brain disease that can only be diagnosed after death. The Australian Sports Brain Bank stated at the time that Tuck had a “severe case” of the disease.

 

What has the Coroners Court recommended for the AFL?

 

Tuck’s death prompted an investigation from the Coroners Court, which delivered its findings this week. The court found that Tuck displayed symptoms of CTE, including episodic memory impairment and depression.

In light of these findings, the court made 21 recommendations to the AFL to prevent future cases of concussion and other head injuries. These recommendations included the suggestion that the AFL reduce the number of contact training sessions throughout the season.

The court also recommended that the AFL take steps to increase the usage of a specially designed mouthguard, which uses innovative motion sensors to monitor head impact and detect potential injury. The court asked the AFL to have at least 80 per cent of players using the mouthguard during the 2024 season, and suggested it be made compulsory.

In addition to the limited training and mouthguard suggestions, the court also recommended the deployment of independent medical professionals at games, regular standardised neurological testing for all players, and heightened powers for ‘concussion spotters’, who would be able to remove players during games, if they suspect a head injury.

 

What is the AFL doing to prevent concussions?

 

The AFL now has three months to respond to the court’s recommendations, but the coroner’s suggestions are not legally binding. However, the AFL has cited the numerous measures already established as evidence of their commitment to improving player safety.

“The AFL continues to prioritise the health and safety of our players at all levels of the game and the AFL will now take time to formally review the recommendations of Judge Cain that were largely focused on reducing repetitive head trauma in our game,” the league said in a statement.

 

What causes CTE?

 

The exact cause of CTE is not known, but it is suspected that it occurs due to repeated head injuries. There is no set amount of head injuries that cause CTE, but a link has been established between the disease’s development and involvement in contact sports. For this reason, professional athletes like Tuck are some of the most at risk of developing CTE.

CTE is difficult to detect and a diagnosis requires evidence of tissue degeneration from proteins in the brain. This degeneration can only be detected after death, although individuals can still be suspected of having CTE while they’re still alive.

 

If you or anyone you know is struggling with their mental health and needs support, Lifeline is available 24/7 at: 13 11 14 or lifeline.org.au

 

Getty Images | Ryan Pierse

 

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Cayle Reid

By Cayle Reid

Cayle Reid is a fan of everything health and fitness. He spends his free time at the gym, on his surfboard or waking up early to watch sports in incompatible time zones.

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