A few days ago Sky Sports reported that its “likely” that next year’s 2020 European Championship will introduce temporary concussion substitutes for players that require evaluation after suffering a head injury during a match. This news comes on the back of news in May that the USL had submitted a potential rule change to the International Football Association Board (IFAB) that would allow for a head injury substitution.
Likely as a result of that submission by the USL, the IFAB will now seriously consider the idea, and both UEFA and FifPRO are reportedly in favor of the change. The Sky report further details that the rule change will reportedly be discussed at the IFAB annual business meeting next Tuesday, with the rule then voted upon during the annual general meeting Feb. 29. If passed, the changes would go into effect June 1, 2020, meaning that Euro 2020 would see the initial introduction of the new rules into competitive matches, with the Premier League, Scottish Premiership, and EFL to follow suit afterwards.
Simply put, this is good news. Rugby already uses a similar system, with any potentially concussed player being removed from play for further evaluation. While that player is off the field, teams are allowed to make a temporary substitution, which may then be reversed if the substituted player is cleared to return to play. It’s currently unclear exactly how the proposed new rule would work, but it would certainly be a welcome addition for teams, players, and medical professionals alike.
From an athletic trainer’s perspective, I believe it should help to ease some of the pressure when evaluating a player with a potential head injury. The athlete’s well-being is always of paramount importance but, speaking from experience, it doesn’t exactly make it easier to do your job when a coach is freaking out about the time your evaluation is taking because the team is temporarily down to 10 men.
This sort of rule is also embarrassingly overdue when it comes to soccer played at the highest level. Rugby introduced its version of the law all the way back in August of 2015, and while rugby does carry a higher risk of head injury than soccer does, it’s not like the sport has been free of concussion-related controversy in recent years. A simple Google search turns up instance after instance of head injuries being handled poorly on the field at the highest level of soccer, with then-Orlando City captain Jonathan Spector an unfortunately perfect example of a player returning to play when he shouldn’t have been allowed to — coming back on only a couple minutes after suffering a concussion during a match at New York City FC back in 2018. Those of you with long memories may also remember a very clearly concussed Christoph Kramer being allowed to play for 15 more minutes during the 2014 World Cup final after the initial assessment by Germany’s medical staff. That game was over five years ago, and a full year before the implementation of rugby’s rule. and is another reason its baffling to me that change has taken this long.
Regardless of the strangely long amount of time it’s taken to enact change, the fact that it’s (probably) coming is again, very good news. The things to watch for if the rule change is indeed implemented will be twofold. Obviously, it will need to be ensured that the rule actually does what its supposed to while also being fair within the context of the game. The next step would be making sure those changes are implemented properly at every level all the way down to youth soccer. If you’re going to do something, you might as well do it right, and seeing how that change would be implemented in youth soccer — a vast and complicated landscape at the best of times — would be of particular interest and importance. In the end though, the proposed change is an overdue but ultimately very important step.