The Senate Community Affairs References Committee have handed down their Report to the Senate on concussions and repeated head trauma in contact sports. We set out below the 13 key recommendations and the role that the Senate Committee considers sporting organisations play in these recommendations.
The report sets out 13 key recommendations summarised as follows:
- Recommendation 1 – The Australian Government establish the National Sports Injury Database as a matter of urgency (to collect sports injury data including at the community level of sport).
- Recommendation 2 – Professional sporting codes collect data on concussions and identified sub-concussive events and share this data with the National Sports Injury Database.
- Recommendation 3 – The Australian Government consider establishing independent research pathways, including through a newly created body or existing bodies, dedicated to supporting and coordinating research and well-structured scientific investigations.
- Recommendation 4 – The Australian Government and sporting organisations continue to fund research into the effects of concussion and repeated head trauma on at-risk cohorts.
- Recommendation 5 – The Australian Government consider measures to encourage Australians, in the event of their death, to donate their brain to a brain bank for scientific research into brain health and disease, including CTE.
- Recommendation 6 – The Australian Government consider a coordinated and consolidated funding framework for ongoing research to be undertaken in consultation with state and territory governments, sporting organisations, universities, and other scientific research bodies.
- Recommendation 7 – The Department of Health and Aged Care in consultation with relevant stakeholders, consider how best to improve community awareness and education.
- Recommendation 8 – The Australian Government, in partnership with state and territory governments consider how best to address calls for:
- the development of standardised, evidence-based, and easy-to-access concussion and head trauma guidelines for GPs;
- suitable general practice consultations for people with concussion,
- repeated head trauma and other complex care needs; and
- increased training for first aid responders at sporting venues that focuses specifically on treating concussion and head injury.
- Recommendation 9 – National sporting organisations in Australia explore further rule modifications for their respective sports to prevent and reduce the impact of concussion and repeated head trauma (taking into account emerging evidence both domestically and internationally).
- Recommendation 10 – The Australian Government, in collaboration with medical experts, develops return-to-play protocols, adaptable across all sports.
- Recommendation 11 – The Australian Government consider developing a national strategy to reduce the incidence and impacts of concussion, including binding return-to-play protocols and other rules to protect sport participants from head injuries and consider whether any existing government bodies would be best placed to monitor, oversee and/or enforce concussion-related rules and return to play protocols in Australian sports.
- Recommendation 12 – Professional sporting codes and players associations consider ways for a best practice model to provide ongoing support, financial and otherwise, to current and former players affected by concussions and repeated head trauma.
- Recommendation 13 – Professional sports organisations are encouraged to ensure that their athletes have insurance coverage for head trauma. The committee also encourages state and territory governments to engage with professional sporting organisations to explore how the general exclusion of professional sportspeople from various state and territory workers’ compensation schemes could be removed.
Many of the recommendations are calls for the Australian Government to take certain actions. Those directed to sporting bodies are recommendations 2, 4, 6, 9, 12 and 13. Sporting bodies will also clearly have a role to play in the development and enforcement of return-to-play protocols mentioned in recommendations 10 and 11 made to the Australian Government.
Whilst there is no strict obligation on sporting organisations to adopt these policies (although they may be legislated in the future), a sport disregarding these recommendations from the point of view of future common law actions would be doing so at their own risk.
The report does set out the views of the Committee as to how sporting codes and organisations can play their part in fulfilling the above recommendations, including:
- Collection and publication of data (in the future to a National Sports Injury Database) on concussions and identified sub-concussive events including the level at which the injury was sustained as well as the demographic information of the individual involved. [Recommendations 1 and 2]
- Taking action to adopt and apply precautionary measures whilst the evidence in this space continues to evolve. The committee noted it was of the strong view that government can and should play a greater role in supporting and coordinating research to avoid conflicts of interest and to ensure integrity, independence and transparency. [Recommendations 3 to 6]
- Recognising the influence of their high-profile sports figures regarding community attitudes and shaping culture towards concussion and repeated head trauma in sport. [Recommendations 7 and 8]
- Where a modified rule could reduce the incidence of sport-related concussions, particularly for children and adolescents, a precautionary approach should be adopted and strong consideration be given to adopting the rule modification. [Recommendation 9]
- That return to play guidelines that many codes have in place currently are insufficient and that stand-down periods post-concussion should be longer than 11 or 12 days (and an even more conservative approach taken for children). [Recommendation 10]
- Taking greater steps to enforce adherence and compliance to concussion guidelines, policies and return-to-play protocols across all levels of sport. [Recommendation 11]
- National sports organisations addressing current inadequacies in financial, medical and other broader supports and guidance for affected players and loved ones. Further, that these organisations play a leadership role in supporting and encouraging affected individuals to seek and receive help and explore ways to increase community awareness. [Recommendation 12]
- Professional sports organisations ensuring their athletes have insurance coverage for head trauma. [Recommendation 13]
There is no ‘one size fits all’ guide for each sport. Each sporting organisation needs to sit down, review the recommendations, and consider how they can be implemented across their particular sport. Whilst understanding that there may be challenges in applying these in junior and community sport, the overarching priority must be taking steps to protect participants in sport at all levels.