- jaime gonzalez
- BBC World, Los Angeles, @bbc_gonzalez
They have acted «negligently» and have not done enough.
This is the position of a group of soccer players and mothers of players who at the end of August sued FIFA and several of its associates in the United States in a California court, such as the American Youth Soccer Organization (AYSO, for its acronym in Spanish). in English).
They demand that the safety conditions in which soccer is practiced in the children’s and youth categories be improved and they ask to limit the hitting of the ball with the head.
The lawsuit added to the strong criticism that FIFA received during the 2014 World Cup in Brazil in which several soccer players were allowed to continue playing despite suffering the effects of concussion.
Questioned, medical experts from international soccer’s governing body announced Tuesday that they will recommend a series of strict rules for treating brain injuries.
According to the head of FIFA’s medical committee, Michel D’Hooghe, a match must be stopped for three minutes when a player with a possible concussion is being examined by a team doctor, who will decide whether or not the athlete remains in the playing field.
The California plaintiffs considered that until now soccer players had not been protected, despite «the changes that more than a decade ago requested the medical community» in this regard.
In their demands they detail a much broader action plan than the fact of determining when a footballer can return to the pitch.
As they explain, it is also necessary to create a medical surveillance program in the US for players and former players, and to limit the practice of heading among soccer players under 17 years of age.
Another proposal is to allow teams to make temporary changes to test players with the potential to have suffered concussions.
The lawsuit is reminiscent of the legal actions taken in the US in recent years against the National Football League (NFL) demanding million-dollar compensation from the organization for the consequences suffered by those who practice this sport when hit your head
Last year, the NFL – which had been accused of deliberately concealing the dangers of such impacts – settled with the plaintiffs, who included more than 4,000 former professional players.
The league has pledged to create a fund of about $700 million to pay compensation related to the long-term consequences of concussions and to fund medical research.
The Dangers of CTE
Although experts agree that the risk of serious concussions in soccer is lower than in other contact sports such as football, boxing, or rugby, they also emphasize that the repeated use of the head that occurs in football makes players also can suffer long-term problems that can particularly decrease their quality of life.
The main concern of specialists is the so-called chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE, for its acronym in English).
CTE can develop as a result of the various concussions that athletes suffer throughout their careers and that in the past have been associated with boxing, being known as boxing dementia.
This pathology – which can only be verified in medical examinations postmortem– was verified a few years ago in the autopsies that American experts performed on dozens of former American football players who appeared at a young age, some of them taking their own lives.
And it is that according to doctors, CTE, which manifests itself in acute damage to brain tissue, can cause loss of memory and cognitive functions, as well as depression, insomnia and anxiety, among other symptoms.
Investigations into CTE are taking their first steps, although in the US both the NFL and other contact sports regulatory bodies have taken its possible consequences seriously and have agreed to introduce new rules to try to minimize the risks associated with concussions.
For example, football players who sustain severe head injuries must be removed from the field immediately to be evaluated by medical professionals, who are in charge of deciding when they can return to a game or practice.
The doctors responsible for FIFA assured BBC Mundo through a statement that the organization «has always given a high priority to the prevention and treatment of head injuries», beginning studies on this matter more than a decade ago, the result from which emerged «clear recommendations» for teams and players.
Experts believe that, as studies on CTE progress, it is likely that cases of former soccer players who have suffered from this disease will begin to come to light.
A few months ago, the British doctor Willie Stewart presented a report in which he assured that Jeff Astle, former English footballer for West Bromwich, died in 2002 at the age of 59.
Stewart was known to be a header specialist, he had died as a result of CTE and not Alzheimer’s as was originally believed.
Christopher Nowinski, co-director of Boston University’s Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy, has been warning about the consequences of concussions for years.
«FIFA’s rules regarding concussions lag far behind those applied in other sports and this was enhanced at the World Cup in Brazil, when they allowed unconscious players to continue playing, putting at risk their health”, says Nowinski in conversation with BBC Mundo.
«We know the consequences that CTE can have and that is why changes are necessary. Every year thousands of young people have their lives affected by concussions, which could be prevented with education and proper treatment.»
Nowinski acknowledges that the number of players suffering concussions in football is higher, but believes that football is «in the same danger zone and that should not be ignored.»
The Boston University expert also believes that changes in the practice of children’s and youth soccer will be lost, delaying the age at which it is allowed to head the ball to 13 or 14 years.
Before that age, children do not have sufficiently developed neck muscles to adequately absorb impacts to the head.
Dr. Tom A. Schweizer, from the department of neuroscience at St. Michael’s Hospital in Canada, associated with the University of Toronto, agrees with Nowinski that heading the ball among children should be limited.
«When we talk about children’s players, there are studies that show that the neck muscles are not sufficiently developed to absorb the header of the ball,» says Schweizer in conversation with BBC Mundo.
«This, coupled with the fact that they are still learning the headbutting technique, can cause damage.»
Schweizer says that the incidence of concussions among soccer players is lower than in other sports and that more research still needs to be done.
Although he indicates that in a study he carried out a few months ago based on the available scientific literature on this subject, he concluded that more than 50% of the players suffer some concussion throughout their career.