Concussion - Brain Injury and Sport European Conference

We attended the Brain Injury and Sport European Conference at the Aviva Stadium last Friday the 13th December. It was the first of its kind and a superb conference produced by Acquired Brain Injury Ireland in association with the European Brain Injury Society.

Former college American Footballer and WWE wrestler, Chris Nowinski, spoke about his experience of concussion and his work on the subject ever since. His presentation was a real highlight of the day and demonstrated how the issue of concussion has been negligently trivialized over the years by various sports bodies.

Doctor Michael O’Brien from Boston Children’s Hospital in the States, pointed out alarmingly that children at the age of 17 in America are starting to show signs of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). CTE is a progressive degenerative disease in individuals with a history of multiple concussions and other forms of head injury and was originally found in boxers. Many sports stars in America have been found to suffer from the disease and it can lead to depression, dementia and suicide. It is scary to think that children are showing signs of CTE especially in light of the tragic death this side of the water of 14 year old rugby player Ben Robinson who died in 2011 following several blows to the head in a rugby game.

All of the medical speakers at the conference stressed that injuries can be pro longed subsequent to a concussion and recovery stunted even from physical activities that are non-contact. They also stressed that subsequent to an athlete's first concussion they do not need to have another head injury for the concussion symptoms to worsen. Therefore, mere physical exercise can have damaging effects on an athlete who has recently suffered concussion.

Mild injuries are often the most dangerous long term when it comes to concussion. They are the most vulnerable and difficult to treat, i.e a light hit to the head or mild concussion symptoms are difficult to diagnose and manage.

What is clear from the discussions is that it is not acceptable for an athlete to be allowed back on the field of play if there is any suspicion whatsoever of concussion. 

A panel of speakers chaired by George Hook, including former Ireland international football manager Brian Kerr, All Ireland winning Dublin footballer Rory O’Carroll and former Scottish rugby international Rory Lamont (who cited 10 instances of suffering concussion in his career) agreed that it should be the responsibility of the doctor to remove the player from the field of play and this should ideally be an independent doctor. Even if the player urges the medics to allow him or her to return to action, they are not in a position to make a rational decision.

It is also not acceptable for any parties to take part in sport without significant training on concussion, whether they be coaches, players, administrators or medics. All agreed that education was key to preventing concussion.

Doctor Barry O’Driscoll who recently resigned from the IRB due to their implementation of the 5 minute pitch side assessment rule stated that this practice is highly dangerous and puts the players at serious risk. Doctor O’Driscoll stated that the ‘lawyers were queuing up’ in light of recent developments. We are not suggesting that an ambulance chasing culture be adopted with respect to concussion but we do suggest that in light of recent medical evidence produced in the last 2 to 3 years, sports governing bodies must adhere to best practice and do everything possible to minimise the risks of concussion in order to avoid litigation and more importantly to avoid brain injuries to young athletes.

Patrick Conliffe

McHale Muldoon Solciitors

18 December 2013

Should you have any queries on the topic above or have a sports injury enquiry please contact one of our lawyers at 01 9014658

Please also view Patrick Conliffe's articles on this topic in the World Sports Law Report and the Emerald Rugby Magazine for further reading on the legal issues surrounding sports injuries;