Brain injury charity Headway has called for an independent review of football’s approach to concussions following an incident involving Manchester United striker Anthony Martial in Sunday’s 3-1 defeat at Watford.
The France international appeared to be concussed after a clash of heads with Watford defender Daryl Janmaat in the 27th minute of the Premier League match.
Seven minutes later, a groggy-looking Martial lost the ball in the build-up to Watford’s opener and four minutes after that he was substituted.
Headway’s spokesman Luke Griggs said the charity was not specifically questioning United’s treatment of Martial but it was deeply concerned about the general application of the concussion rules football introduced in August 2014.
Those rules were brought in after several high-profile incidents that attracted considerable criticism of football’s attitude to head injuries and they stipulate that all home teams must employ a third ‘tunnel doctor’ to help team doctors identify concussions and decide whether the player is fit to continue.
They also reinforced the Football Association’s protocol that a player should even be removed if a concussion is only suspected, but not necessarily confirmed — what Headway refers to as the principle of ‘if in doubt, sit it out’.
“Headway welcomed the strengthening of football’s approach to concussion when these new rules were introduced, but serious questions now have to be asked about whether they are being fully implemented,” said Griggs.
“The role of the independent tunnel doctor needs clarifying. How much influence do they have in decisions about whether or not a player is concussed? Why are they not more visible when these decisions are being taken? Are they actually being consulted?
“This is a vital detail as concussion can be notoriously difficult to diagnose on the spot — particularly on the pitch with doctors under intense pressure to make big decisions that could influence matches.”
Speaking immediately after the match, Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho said he did not know what injury Martial had when he was forced to come off, suggesting it could have been an ankle, knee or head injury.
Football’s response to the growing body of evidence that links head injuries, even minor ones, to serious illnesses later in life has been in the spotlight for some time, most particularly earlier this year when it emerged that four of the eight surviving members of England’s World Cup- winning team in 1966 now suffer from dementia or memory loss.
A spokesperson for the FA said player welfare was the “paramount priority” and the governing body consulted international experts when it published revised guidelines last November.
“Footballers who sustain a suspected concussion, either during training or in a game, should immediately be removed from the pitch and not allowed to return until the appropriate treatment has been administered,” the FA spokesperson said.
The section on concussion in the Premier League rulebook states that all club medical staff should have a pocket tool for recognising concussions with them when at matches or training sessions.
It also says any player who has sustained a concussive injury, or is suspected of sustaining one, shall not be allowed to resume playing or training that day, and shall not be allowed to return to action until they have been cleared to do so by a doctor.
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