Friday 20 September 2019

Confusion not of referee’s making but of the sport’s ongoing failure to deal with concussion issue


Donncha OCallaghan. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Donncha OCallaghan. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile
David Kelly

David Kelly

"He's been knocked out, lads!". In time, these words could form the centre-piece of Morgan Parra's autobiography. Then again, it is quite conceivable they could also feature in a court case. Or worse.

Regrettably, the likelihood is that they will be forgotten.

Just like the time before when a player was knocked out. And the time before that. Because there's always another game to help us forget the last one.

Welsh referee Ben Whitehouse has been thrust into the spotlight because he uttered those words above, referring to the French international scrum-half, during Saturday's quite anarchic Champions Cup clash between Northampton and Clermont.

There has been round condemnation of the fact that it was on his watch that the player was allowed to return to the match and it does seem that the referee lost control of this incident, as well as several others, amidst a typically pressurised encounter in France.

Certainly, that is what the competition organisers implied yesterday, when asserting in a statement that, although he was well-intentioned, his reaction "confused" the situation.

Morgan Parra. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Morgan Parra. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

"While an audible comment from match referee, Ben Whitehouse, at the time of the event may have led to some confusion, Alligin Performance commended the official as he clearly stopped the match out of concern for the player's welfare."

The statement attempted to offer a comprehensive review of what was euphemistically referred to as an "event" in a statement released last night.

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"Parra passed the first stage of the HIA after leaving the field of play in the 27th minute of the match at Stade Marcel-Michelin. As the criteria for a permanent removal of the player were not satisfied, the Clermont medical staff then decided that was he was fit to return.

"Any head injury event that occurs during matches in the Champions Cup and Challenge Cup is subject to an independent review process managed by the UK-based company, Alligin Performance.

"The event involving Parra was referred in the first instance by Alligin Performance to Dr Mike Rossiter, consultant in sport and exercise medicine, who concluded that the clinical decision-making process was correct in allowing Parra to return to the field of play.

"Dr Rossiter viewed all available video imagery from the match and also sought detailed information from the ASM Clermont Auvergne medical representative, Dr Eliot Rubio.

"Following Dr Rossiter's review, a second independent review was undertaken by Dr David Jones with the same outcome."

This statement unveils more questions than answers because, as we now well know, or rather do not, there is so much about concussion that remains hidden from even the naked medical eye that discretion must surely be the first port of call.

There has been no attempt to clarify the "confusion" supposedly caused by the referee.

Did he initiate the confusion by declaring the player unconscious and demanding his removal, as required by the laws?

Or was his "confusion" caused by an inability to assess whether or not Parra was concussed?

The referee, it feels, is being hung out to dry when his primary role was to protect the player.

For our part, the referee's declaration that the player was, to his eyes and mind, unconscious, should have been more strenuously adjudicated by the official himself, or at least his large retinue of assistants.

However, it is indicative of the manner in which the HIA assessments in particular, and concussion in general, remains capable of escaping even World Rugby's best intentioned, yet still vastly flawed, attempts to govern.

There is an argument for saying that the HIA was actually unnecessary in this instance, for what would be the point in assessing a player's head when the referee has already declared him unconscious?

Nobody knows, although it seems very unlikely in such a short space of time, if a HIA can assess whether a player was concussed or not. In that instance, there should be no equivocation.

It seems that everyone was consulted - including the consultants! - except the only person who was at the centre of the action. The referee. Instead, he merely caused "confusion".

Hence, the sole arbiter on the day - and now it seems in the review, too - was completely ignored. Anything goes, it seems, and in this case a player's welfare was, in our view, also blithely ignored as the game resumed with a palpably vulnerable person re-introduced to the field.

Some will attempt to argue pedantically that perhaps Parra did not lose consciousness and that there was nothing to see here. Let them.

Donncha O'Callaghan's fears for the sport elsewhere in this newspaper this week would appear to be fully justified based on this snapshot.

The referee has the power to remove a player even suspected of losing consciousness, under the laws of the game.

Instead of reviewing why he was returned to the field, EPCR should review just why he was allowed back on.

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