Tuesday 20 August 2019

Sports must change or face a concussion crisis - expert

'We’re normalising pain and injury, so we need to ask ourselves what are the implications for brain injury?' Stock photo: Sportsfile
'We’re normalising pain and injury, so we need to ask ourselves what are the implications for brain injury?' Stock photo: Sportsfile

Sarah MacDonald

A former international athlete has warned that competitive sport is headed towards a concussion crisis if a culture of denial is allowed to continue and if contact sports continue to "normalise pain and injury".

Dr Katie Liston has called for a national dialogue on how sports players and organisations continue to emphasise "bigger and faster" in sports such as rugby, GAA and soccer.

Dr Liston lectures in sports sciences at the University of Ulster. Speaking to the Irish Independent at a conference at Trinity College Dublin on sports and ethics, the academic warned that sports such as rugby, at a professional level, were seeing a higher number of concussive incidents.

"What we don't know is whether that is because there are more of them or whether our understanding of them is growing," she said.

In her address to the conference, Dr Liston spoke about the dangers of a culture of denial which hides the extent of concussion.

She also referenced the existence of a culture of "playing hurt", which she warned was "deeply ingrained at all levels".

Dr Liston said she was particularly concerned about sports at the amateur level.

She said: "[There isn't the] same level of medical care and support away from the field of play and at the actual games.

"So if there is a crisis, there is certainly greater risk for that group of players.

"What I am advocating, along with all the neurological and medical developments that are needed, is to take a step back and ask ourselves, among our local sports clubs and amateur clubs, what is actually happening in the culture of sport at the moment?

"We're normalising pain and injury, so we need to take a step back and ask what are the implications of that for brain injury?

"We need to put the health of players - young and old - at the heart of what we do. Understanding of injury should not just be in neurological terms but also cultural."

Referring to the radical proposal to ban tackling in schools rugby, which was regarded as a step too far by World Rugby, she acknowledged it would probably result in the schools game being restricted to sevens rugby or tag rugby for young players.

Dr Liston said: "Instead of that being a positive thing, it is portrayed as bad."

However, she highlighted how in New Zealand weighted rugby pitched players of similar size and weight against each other.

She also referred to calls being made for the heading of balls to be banned for young soccer players, adding: "If it is shown that this can protect the health of young players, then it is absolutely necessary and we should be doing it.

"But we first have to have a dialogue at a national level in Ireland on this whole issue."

Irish Independent

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