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AFL Doubles Down On Concussion Rules Ahead Of 2021 Season

T
he AFL has released its updated 2021 AFL/AFLW Concussion Guidelines, including an increase from a minimum of six days to 12 days that players will be sidelined following a concussion.

All players diagnosed with a concussion will now miss at least one match, assuming standard fixturing, and depending on clinical symptoms could miss more than one match as part of the new return to play protocols.

In a statement, the AFL said the Concussion Guidelines are reviewed annually and the current version was prepared by the AFL’s chief medical officer, Peter Harcourt, and deputy chief medical officer, Michael Makdissi.

AFL general counsel, Andrew Dillon, said the league takes concussion seriously and the updated protocols reflect its commitment to health and safety, and were developed in line with the Consensus Statement from the most recent Concussion in Sport International Conference in 2016.

“The updated concussion guidelines represent a significant step in the AFL’s existing record of ongoing improvements to its concussion management strategy that reflect medical research and other learnings over time,” Dillon said.

“The reality is we play a contact sport and there is always going to be risk, however over recent years we have continued to take action to strengthen match-day protocols and amend the Laws of the Game to discourage high contact.

“We also have used the technology that is embedded in the AFL ARC to provide another opportunity to identify potential concussive incidents that would not have otherwise been detected.

“The updated guidelines are the most stringent concussion protocols in Australian sport, and we are committed to continuing to take action to protect the safety of players at all levels of the game,” he said.

In response to the changes, veteran AFL player agent, Peter Jess, told SEN Breakfast the changes are “brave”, but the league needs to legislate subclinical concussions, where the brain suffers an impact that shakes nerve endings without losing consciousness.

“From my point of view, the AFL are very brave because they’ve actually looked at change, it’s the most difficult thing in our sport,” Jess said.

“The problem is it’s not based on science.

“What I’ve said to the AFL time and time again is that while clinical concussions are a problem in the game, the biggest problem we have is the detection of subclinical concussions, their treatment and rehabilitation,” he said.

Discussing the recent post-mortem findings of Shane Tuck which revealed severe CTE, Jess said: “Shane Tuck didn’t present with a history of clinical concussions, he presented with a number of subclinical concussions over the journey.”

“In the research we’ve done, we’ve found the average football player would have 80 to 100 of these dings in a game… what it means is you’re involved in a minor car crash at 45km/h, it doesn’t kill you, but it hurts you.

“The AFL has focused on clinical concussions, which they must do, but they have not addressed the major issue of subclinical concussions.

“You need to mandate testing for players, you need to cut out the fact they have to self-report.

“After every match they should be taking a blood test and that blood test will tell us if there are biomarkers that you have suffered a minor trauma in your brain,” Jess said.

As part of the new protocols, during the minimum 12 days the player who suffered a concussion will be out of action, the player will initially rest, then undertake an individual graduated loading program, before making a graduated return to team training with periods of rest in between training sessions.

Club doctors will be responsible for determining if longer periods of recovery and rehabilitation are necessary but are required to discuss any changes in diagnosis with the AFL chief medical officer.