The English Premier League, the world’s most prominent soccer circuit, will institute new rules for treating and managing concussions suffered during its games during the upcoming 2014–2015 season, the Football Association announced Tuesday.
The new rules will require players to leave the field upon suffering a head injury and will leave decisions about whether they can return to play in the hands of doctors rather than managers, according to Fox Sports. The reforms also include new rules that will put a third doctor on the field to assist in monitoring injuries both by watching the pitch and reviewing television replays. Premier League players will undergo baseline testing before each season, and the league will hire a doctor to research on concussions in soccer.
“If there has been a confirmed or suspected period of loss of consciousness, the player must be removed from the field of play, and not be allowed to return,” the new FA rules state, according to Fox.
The new rules are a small step in the right direction for a sport that has done relatively little to deal with concussions suffered on its fields. FIFA, the sport’s international governing body, was the target of criticism during the 2014 World Cup after Uruguay’s Alvaro Pereira returned to the field despite clearly losing consciousness during a match against England. Pereira’s injury was one of several notable incidents that led FIFPro, the international soccer player’s union, to demand that FIFA strengthen its rules to protect players from head injuries.
The Premier League concussion rules were heavily criticized early in the 2013–2014 season when Tottenham goalkeeper Hugo Lloris was allowed to remain on the field even after losing consciousness. While this is a step in the right direction, the NFL, Major League Baseball, and the NCAA have shown that concussion management rules don’t necessarily mean anything without a strong commitment to enforcing them — and punishing teams and coaches who don’t follow them. That is paramount especially as players and coaches adjust, as the adoption of new rules has caused problems and complaints in leagues like the NBA and NFL before.
The new rules apply only to English soccer; despite the criticism, FIFA has thus far not addressed concussion problems in its sport, which are becoming a part of the larger conversation about brain injuries in sports. In February, brain researchers at Boston University found chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), the disease thought to be tied to repeated blows to the head and commonly associated with former football players, in a soccer player for the first time. NCAA data made public in a court filing last year showed that men’s and women’s soccer had some of the highest concussion rates among all collegiate sports.
Given the Premier League’s prominence, the step in the right direction could lead to better rules across the sport and at youth levels, especially as the reform package includes the launch of a public education “campaign aimed at making players and managers at all levels aware of the dangers of head injuries,” according to the BBC.