AFL and NRL medical chiefs will meet representatives of America’s National Football League, the US National Hockey League, FIFA and the International Equestrian Federation as part of a global, multi-sport approach to tackling the thorny issue of concussion.
Eager to know more about the topic that has led America’s richest sporting code to commit to a compensation claim exceeding $US870 million, the NFL is hosting select international sports delegates in New York later this month.
The NFL has indicated willingness to fund concussion-related research projects with major sports abroad, and the two-day meeting will see representatives share their priorities, top concerns and knowledge in the area.
Co-chair of the NFL’s Head, Neck and Spine Committee, Dr Richard Ellenbogen, has co-ordinated the meeting that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and other key NFL executives are expected to attend.
Dr Peter Harcourt will represent the AFL as the code’s chief medical officer, and the NRL’s medical boss Dr Ken Crichton will travel with the North Queensland Cowboys’ doctor Chris Ball.
Associate Professor Paul McCrory, who sits on the AFL’s concussion working group, has played an organisational role and will also travel to the States.
Rugby union will be represented by the chief medical officer of the Dublin-based International Rugby Board. The involvement of Swiss-based Federation Equestre Internationale (FEI), the international governing body for all Olympic equestrian disciplines, is significant given equestrian sports have the highest rate of concussion of any sport.
Associate Professor McCrory, who told Fairfax he was attending as an independent expert in the field rather than an AFL representative, hopes the talks will see the NFL agree to fund sport concussion research in Australia.
McCrory said it was likely that sideline concussion diagnosis would be prioritised as an area for research and that the two-day gathering would have a different focus to the International Conference on Concussion in Sport, the fourth edition of which was held in Zurich last year.
“It’s not about individuals. It’s not about particular universities doing stuff. It’s about how we work this to the benefit of athletes all over the world, whether they’re elite or community level it doesn’t matter,” he said.
“I think it’s important for all the sports to get together to talk about this area. It’s an important topic. And collaborating across the world on the research and the ideas is critical.”
As well as being a major information exchange, the Zurich concussion conference has generated debate - and some division - between experts on a hot topic worldwide.
Notably from Australia, Associate Professor Gavin Davis, who has worked with McCrory on advising the AFL on best concussion management and diagnosis practices, this year questioned the credibility of Boston University’s Chris Nowinski, who has been the front man for that institute’s CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy) Centre.
Asked whether he hoped the NFL, which has annual revenue of roughly $US9 billion, would fund concussion-related research in Australian sports, McCrory said: “That would be nice. Absolutely.”
Like many contact sports globally, the AFL continues to refine its own concussion diagnosis and management procedures with a backdrop of some angst.
At a meeting of AFL club doctors earlier this year, improvements for sideline diagnosis during matches was discussed. While some club doctors indicated they were willing to trial additional testing protocols before this year’s season concludes, others were reluctant. The AFLPA, which is driving a new longitudinal study with retirees, remains highly concerned about the matter.
According to AFL data, there are between six and seven cases of concussion at each of the league’s 18 clubs per season on average.
Former Melbourne player Daniel Bell told Fairfax Media in 2011 how he’d been diagnosed with brain damage linked to the multiple concussions he sustained during a football career that comprised 66 AFL games. Under AFL rules, Bell stood to receiveless than $100,000 in compensation.
West Coast premiership star Dean Kemp and Chad Rintoul, another premiership player who had a six-year AFL career between Adelaide, West Coast and Collingwood, have both received injury compensation payments because concussion ended their football careers.
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