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The news that the MCC World Cricket Committee will turn its sights to the issue of concussion in its meetings this month is the latest sign that the game is getting serious about addressing the issue.
It comes just days after the ECB board permitted the introduction of replacement players for those suffering from serious head strikes, prompted by a recommendation from their medical team and cricket committee. This change has been a long time coming. After 150 years of the same playing conditions, the ICC ruled games would not lose first-class status once a substitute player was allowed to come on following a concussion to a player.
Although there are details to iron out in the ECB’s implementation, this is a huge step in the right direction, and it is hoped that the MCC’s discussions will lead to corresponding change on the international stage.
Concussion checks have become common in recent years – as demonstrated in this year’s Ashes – and all professional players in England have to undergo baseline concussion tests to compare their normal responses to the ones they give post-concussion.
Concussion isn’t just an issue for cricket, and indeed the issue is even more acute in contact sports. But all sports clubs should be doing more to adopt injury-prevention strategies to minimise the risk to players of head injuries, focusing on good sportsmanship, correct techniques and appropriate equipment. Given the unpredictable nature of sport, head injuries will still occur despite having injury-prevention strategies in place. Concussions are not always easily identified and often players are reluctant to admit that they have suffered injury themselves.
Still, it is clear that cricket is failing to keep pace with other sports. In rugby union, there is a standard head injury assessment outlined through a World Rugby HIA protocol that is thorough, involving post-match video review – one which is constantly being reviewed and updated according to the latest best practice. Cricket has no such consistent approach.
Even more concerning is the fact that at the international level, there doesn’t appear to be the right infrastructure to make the right assessments. Only three countries have full-time team doctors (although New Zealand has emergency paramedics), and change in this regard needs to be effected by the ICC. And this extends right down the sporting pyramid into the grassroots and amateur level. At that level judgements as to whether a non-professional athlete should continue playing are often taken by someone who has no medical background at all.
Working with sportspeople I have seen the devastating outcomes for those with otherwise bright futures ahead of them. The injuries are often preventable, perhaps suffered because an athlete has returned to play, leading to repeat concussions which slow recovery and increase the likelihood of long-term problems.
With high-profile backing from many senior figures in the game, the issue of concussion is finally getting the attention it needs – 2018 could be the year the right change arrives.
Ipek Tugcu, associate solicitor at Bolt Burdon Kemp
Lord's Cricket Ground