Statements From NRL, AFL, ARU, And FFA In Response To Our Story On CTE

Responses to The Sunday Project – CTE story 1 Dec 2019

NRL (National Rugby League)

What is your code currently doing to prevent concussions in younger players, particularly children?

The NRL has made changes to the way junior rugby league is both played and governed to reduce the risk of head injuries.

A national “SafePlay” code has been introduced from entry level through to the 15-year-old age group. The code applies several rule modifications designed to create a safe environment for young players including designated “tackle zones.”

The game has also introduced a “TackleSafe” program which is designed to build a player’s competence in how to tackle and be tackled in a safe way.

The program content has been guided by research identifying zones that reduce the risk of injury in tackle situations.

Junior rugby league personnel are also required to complete an online concussion education module.

Our coaching courses include instruction on how to teach safe techniques in tackle situations and our sport safety courses educate our trainers on how to identify symptoms of head injury.

It is NRL policy that no matches can commence without the required number of accredited safety and first aid personnel at a game.

Strict return to play protocols have been established at all levels of the game. A player who suffers an injury to the head must be taken from the field and may not return to the game. The player is not permitted to return to playing without sign-off from a doctor.

There is no place for “set and forget” in this area and the NRL will continue to evolve safety measures for junior participation.

The NRL also offers a range of non-contact forms of the game to cater for children of all ages, abilities and confidence levels.

Is your code keeping up with best practice on concussion prevention given the emerging research globally?

Yes. This is an emerging area of science and we are watching the developments closely.

The National Rugby League uses some of the most advanced measures in the world to prevent, spot and treat head injuries. Our polices are guided by the latest International Consensus on Concussion Statement and include multiple signs and symptoms that require players to be immediately removed from the field for assessment and no return to play that day, with mandatory medical follow up immediately and on subsequent days.

Already we have introduced the Injury Surveillance Bunker (ISB) and Sideline Injury Surveillance (SIS) Tent which utilises the latest in Hawk Eye technology to identify potential head injuries and that will continue to evolve.

Incidents of a possible head injury identified by the technology are reported to the club doctors for immediate review so that they can determine if a full Head Injury Assessment is required off the field. Any player who is subsequently diagnosed with a concussion by the club doctor or meets any of our mandatory do not return signs is not permitted back on the field.

All Head Injury Assessments are reviewed at the end of every round, using the Bunker technology. Every angle of every incident is assessed, and clubs face serious sanctions if they do not comply with the NRL’s rules regarding the management of head injuries.

The NRL continues to liaise with leading researchers and other contact sports to ensure our measures remain at the top of world standards.

AFL (Australian Football League) 

What is your code currently doing to prevent concussions in younger players, particularly children?

The AFL undertakes a range of measures to prevent, identify and appropriately manage concussions in younger players and children playing Australian Football, including:

  • Modified rules for children and gradual introduction of tackling and contact;
  • Education and coaching of correct tackling techniques to protect the tackler and ball-carrier;
  • Concussion education and awareness via our widely disseminated community guidelines – based on the principle of conservatism and “if in doubt, sit them out”;
  • Appropriate management of head knocks, encouragement of use of the HeadCheck app at community level for recognition of concussion and conservative management of recovery and return to school and sport.

Is your code keeping up with best practice on concussion preventions given the emerging research globally?

The AFL collaborates with global and local medical experts and other contact sports to ensure best practice on concussion prevention, identification and management, including:

  • The AFL scientific committee meets monthly to discuss the latest research, trends and information in relation to concussion;
  • The AFL also meets with other codes worldwide to share information and harmonise practice (most recently in Sweden earlier this month);
  • Information and learnings from such forums are fed into our internal structures and inform changes to policies, guidelines, regulations and laws when deemed appropriate;
  • We take an overall conservative view in relation to concussion identification and management and contribute to the scientific literature to influence worldwide practice in that regard.  The AFL’s adoption and championing of sophisticated video analysis software in the identification of potential concussive incidents is an example of the AFL providing leadership in this respect.

ARU (Australian Rugby Union)

Rugby Australia leads the way in player safety and concussion management after breaking new grounds in 2017 through the introduction of the Blue Card initiative.

Referees or medical staff now have the right to flash the Blue Card any time during a game to any player who is showing signs of concussion and an immediate response is undertaken.

After a player receives a Blue Card they cannot participate in the remainder of the match and undergo a mandatory medical assessment before returning to rugby.

In 2019 to date 684 players (just 0.67% of our playing population) have received the blue card which is very low proving how rare concussions are and how far we’ve come in identifying and removing players that might otherwise have been allowed to play on if the mechanism wasn’t available.

A year later Rugby Australia introduced mandatory ‘Size for Age’ guidelines, a first in contact sport in Australia, in junior and schools Rugby. This allows children to be moved up or down a grade based on their physical and mental development. Furthermore it offers every child the opportunity to play rugby irrespective of their size.

Lastly World Rugby and Rugby Australia are continually undertaking new research around injury surveillance and concussions.

World Rugby’s latest research piece led to the legal height of a tackle being lowered to reduce the number of concussions that can occur during tackling.

FFA (Football Federation Australia)

“Football Federation Australia takes this issue very seriously and player welfare continues to be of paramount importance. We have clear concussion protocols in place for professional, semi-professional and amateur football.

We continue to monitor research and liaise with relevant sporting and governing organisations to stay up-to-date with the latest developments. This includes dialogue with world governing body FIFA.”