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Australian sport has come to terms with and is slowly embracing the potential risks associated with concussions, bringing about a new reality for athletes and organizations. This has been acknowledged by Jack Snape.
Rugby union Sport

Australian sport has come to terms with and is slowly embracing the potential risks associated with concussions, bringing about a new reality for athletes and organizations. This has been acknowledged by Jack Snape.


Another football season has arrived, and in 2024, there has been a significant change in the world of sports. There is now a greater recognition of the dangers of concussions, leading to new rules and advancements in research and technology to reduce the impact of head injuries.

Previously viewed with doubt or open disdain by a portion of the sports community, the connection between head collisions and lasting brain damage has not only been confirmed but widely acknowledged. This realization has become apparent as both current and past players come to terms with the potential hazards of participating in the beloved games.

Additional investigation is needed to comprehensively comprehend the development of brain ailments such as chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). However, a new realization has emerged in the world of sports.

The Australian Football League (AFL) has a contract with HitIQ, a manufacturer of “smart” mouthguards. The AFL has six staff members who focus on concussion-related issues. All players in the AFL or AFLW have the choice to use these mouthguards, which track the movement of their heads during training and games. This data helps medical staff and coaches assess the amount of head movement that can lead to head injuries and concussions.

This year, players and clubs will have access to data that can be used to measure the load from contact training. The NRL is also adopting this approach and will be conducting its own trial with HitIQ starting this year. According to HitIQ’s chief commercial officer, Damien Hawes, it would be ideal for every player to use this equipment to gather data for the whole competition. However, the adoption of this technology is still in progress and will require support from champions.

According to Hawes, positive reinforcement from player ambassadors, captains, high performance managers, coaches, and medical staff has resulted in great compliance with using mouthguards. This unified approach and emphasis on the benefits of mouthguards has been effective in promoting adherence to the practice.

World Rugby has addressed the issue by requiring elite players to use these devices this year. There have been some initial problems, such as complaints from Super Rugby players about unnecessary head impact assessments triggered by the devices. However, this rule highlights the sport’s commitment to addressing the risk of concussions.

Angus Brayshaw is taken from the field during the qualifying final between the Collingwood and the Melbourne last year.View image in fullscreen

A new experiment in Australia aims to lower the height of tackles in community rugby, including both professional and school leagues. This rule change requires contact to be made below the sternum of the player with the ball, although high contact is still permitted in the ruck.

Rugby Australia is in the process of implementing 55 in-person coaching sessions to inform over 1,600 coaches and approximately 600 referees about recent changes. According to Michael Procajlo, general manager of community rugby at Rugby Australia, there has been minimal backlash thus far. The organization has also made it clear that there may be an increased number of penalties in the beginning as players adapt to the updated regulations.

“We’ve asked for patience, we’ve asked for calm, we’ve asked people to respect the positions of the match officials and their decisions in all of this as well, as we look to transition ensure we give the trial a good a good crack, because safety is the number one factor that we will always put as first in our considerations,” he said.

Alan Pearce, a researcher specializing in concussion, has dedicated a significant amount of time in the last ten years to studying CTE. He noted that while there is some funding available for research, such as a yearly allocation of $5 million from the government’s Medical Research Future Fund, there is a need for more funding.

Together with his former colleague Craig Patch, who is also a former NRL player, he is conducting a pilot study involving human participants. This study follows previous research that showed positive results in rats and mice who were given omega-3 fish oil after experiencing a concussion. Pearce explained, “We are aiming for people to take four times the recommended daily dose, especially those with post-concussion syndrome.” The team plans to publish a paper that could potentially secure funding for a larger, randomized clinical trial.

Last month, the examiner in charge of investigating the suicide of former Richmond athlete Shane Tuck, who was diagnosed with severe CTE, issued broad suggestions to enhance player safety in the Australian Football League. These suggestions include restricting contact training.

The AFL and AFL players’ associations are getting ready to give feedback on the report, and the protocols for dealing with concussions in the league are being examined. Paul Marsh, chief executive of the AFLPA, stated that there is now a better understanding of this issue in the industry and that cooperation is necessary to effectively reduce the risks for our players.

According to Laura Kane, the head of football league, over 30 modifications have been implemented on the game’s regulations in efforts to enhance player safety. The Brisbane AFLW team, last year’s grand final champions, received a penalty for violating concussion protocol, despite the fact that the player in question did not actually experience a concussion.

Melbourne player Angus Brayshaw retired last week due to concerns for his brain, saying concussion was a “massive issue”. Wally Lewis, known as “the King” in rugby league, has declared he has “probable” CTE, and was lobbying Parliament this week for more funding for CTE education and support.

Queensland rugby league great Wally Lewis

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In response to a notable Parliamentary investigation last year, the Australian Sports Commission recently issued concussion guidelines that pertain to elite sports for the first time.

According to Pearce, sport is now in a different time period. He states, “There has been an increase in research, advocates, and players speaking up about player safety more than ever before.”

Melanie Bussey, an associate professor in biomechanics at the University of Otago, has utilized intelligent mouthguards to analyze the moments in rugby union that often result in intense head movements. This research has influenced recent rule changes made by World Rugby. In the past decade, there were instances where athletic organizations were hesitant to seek information due to fears of potential outcomes. However, Bussey believes these attitudes are becoming obsolete.

She stated that head impacts carry a certain level of risk and that everyone is aware of this. This is the reason why we are all putting in effort to address the issue. However, our ultimate goal is the same: to ensure the safety of players in sports.

Source: theguardian.com