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Concussion 'guidance document' being drafted for schools, clubs and sports governing bodies

The document comes after five young rugby players suffered serious head injuries during Junior Cup games.

A CONCUSSION GUIDANCE document which will be used by schools, clubs and sports governing bodies is currently being drafted by government.

Due to be finalised in the coming months, the document comes just three months after five young Limerick rugby players were rushed to hospital after sustaining serious head injuries in two separate Junior Cup games.

Compulsory headgear 

Since the incidents, there have been calls for compulsory headgear to be worn among junior players.

Three government departments are involved in drafting the memo - the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, the Department of Health and the Department of Education and Skills.

There has been an increased focus on the effects of concussion after years of controversy in the National Football League (NFL) in the US. A number of players have made large settlements with the league and since 2002 the NFL has made 42 rule changes to protect players.

Last year, the league and its 32 club owners pledged $100 million in support of engineering advancements and medical research.

NFL 2017 - Super Bowl 51 - Game New England Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman. Source: Bob Andres

With the increasing popularity in rugby, hurling and other contact sports in Ireland, concerns have been raised about the long-term effects on Irish players, as well as children that play these sports.

Brain injuries 

Earlier this year, Trinity College hosted a major conference on concussion brain injuries, with major sporting figures such as former Irish international rugby players Keith Wood and Fergus Slattery in attendance, as well as Tipperary hurler Seamus Callanan.

Consultant Neurologist at St James’s Hospital, Dr Colin Doherty said awareness of concussion and its immediate and delayed effects is growing amongst not only medical, educational and sporting organisations but also the general public.

Ireland v England - RBS 6 Nations - Aviva Stadium Ireland's Jared Payne at the RBS 6 Nations match at the Aviva Stadium, Dublin. Source: Lorraine O'Sullivan

“There is an urgent need to have a coherent set of national guidelines for recognition and management of mild traumatic brain injury that can reach across organisational boundaries and underpin a proper evidence based approach to treatment,” he said.

Calls for national concussion strategy

This call was repeated by Fianna Fáil’s spokesperson on sport, Kevin O’Keeffe, who said there is a need for a coordinated national concussion strategy to stem the chronic number of young sports people getting injured while playing popular contact sports such as rugby, soccer, Gaelic football and hurling.

“We have seen in recent times a greater level of concussions being reported in our Emergency Departments. Many consultant doctors have raised concerns about the seriousness and frequency of such incidents in Irish hospitals as a result of sporting activities.

Hurling - GAA All Ireland Senior Club Championship Hurling - Final - Loughgiel Shamrocks v Coolderry - Croke Park All Ireland Club Hurling championship match 2012. Source: PA Archive/PA Images

“Parents are very worried about letting their children get involved in contact sports. Their concerns need to be addressed, but we need to ensure that the level of participation in sport, physical activity and recreation increases,” said O’Keeffe.

He said that as the intensity of both professional or semi-professional sport increases, there is a need to “protect our sports people, and ensure that all steps that can be taken are taken to safeguard their health”.

Amateur and professional players 

It appears worries related to head injuries and concussion are not just concerns of parents, but also professional players.

A recent Irish Rugby Union Players Association (IRUPA) survey found that 59% of current players admitted that they are concerned about the long-term effects that concussion may have on their health. However, the majority said they were happy with the support they received.

Ireland Women v England Women - Womens 6 Nations - Donnybrook Stadium England's Sarah Hunter carries the ball through a tackle during the Women's 6 Nations match at Donnybrook Stadium, Dublin. Source: PA Wire/PA Images

A statement to TheJournal.ie from the Department of Sport said the issue of concussion and head injuries in sport “is a serious one, as the health and safety of players participating in sport is of paramount importance”.

The document currently being developed is for the general public, as well schools, clubs and the National Governing Bodies of Sport (NGB) such as the IRFU.

Safety standards in sport 

However, the department said it is important to note that NGBs have responsibility for setting and implementing appropriate safety standards within their sport.

“Neither the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport nor Sport Ireland have a statutory role or remit with regard to monitoring or reviewing the safety standards in use by NGBs,” stated the department.

“NGBs are expected to abide by existing legislation and to have regard to guidance issued by relevant statutory agencies and international federations of sport. A number of NGBs in Ireland, including the IRFU, have concussion and head injury guidelines in place for their sports, which stress the importance of ensuring the health and well-being of the players,” the statement concluded.

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