Over the last few weeks, the highest level of competition in the world’s popular sport was played out on the international stage. Soccer players, fans, and casual viewers experienced a great range of human emotion: the thrills of victory, the pains of defeat and great senses of national unity.
But many were also surprised and appalled at how head injuries were dealt with at such a high and visible level (or rather, how they were not dealt with). The most glaring example was perhaps Germany’s Christoph Kramer’s concussion early in the FIFA World Cup final. After a head-on collision with an Argentinian player, Kramer only stepped off the field for moments before returning to play. Fourteen minutes later, having spent that time stumbling around the field in a daze, he collapsed and was escorted off. Later, he said he couldn’t remember much of his playing time.
The incident lent concrete imagery to a fact that has been repeated over and over since before the World Cup even began: FIFA must adjust its rules and policies to better protect players who have suffered head injuries.
Since teams are only allowed three substitutions per game and players cannot reenter the game once they have been removed, coaches are extremely loath to take out key players. And while the team doctors are tasked with deciding whether players are fit to return to play (while the team plays with a man down), the opinion often seems to be that if the player is conscious and capable of standing, he can play. The immediate rewards of a star player’s participation in the game usually supersedes the long-term and grave dangers that untreated head injuries present.
There are, of course, obstacles. In addition to FIFA’s general unwillingness to change and the “macho” atmosphere to which it clings, soccer players have a long and colorful history of faking serious injury when it suit their needs. Adding allowances for head injury would without a doubt lead to yet more abuses.
But FIFA cannot simply ignore the overwhelming lack of care for head injuries within its ranks simply because it’s more convenient to pass off responsibility to the individual teams. Something’s gotta give.
*Scientists have no conclusive evidence as to whether or how the reduction of g-forces during impacts reduces the number or degree of concussions and head injuries. GelDefender products provide supplemental padding as well as cooling and comfort benefits when used with helmets and caps. Participants in activities in which head impacts can occur should always use tested and approved helmets for protection. However, no helmet or supplemental padding can protect the user from all serious head or neck injuries that can result from impacts.