The Professional Footballers’ Association has urged the game’s lawmakers to allow leagues to begin trials of temporary concussion substitutions when they consider proposed rule changes at a meeting next week.
The players’ union believe that temporary substitutions will help provide better protection to players and give greater support to medical staff as they assess a player’s fitness to continue during a game.
The International Football Association Board (IFAB), the organisation responsible for the laws of the game, meets in London on January 18th to consider an application by leading leagues and player unions, including the PFA and Premier League, to allow for trials of temporary concussion substitutions to begin.
The application, which was made by the World Leagues Forum and FIFPRO on behalf of members including Ligue 1 and the MLS, makes clear that leading leagues are ready to introduce the trials from the beginning of next season. It marks the strongest statement of support for temporary substitutions to date.
Under current protocols – themselves in place as part of an ongoing trial - a player cannot be temporarily replaced if they are removed from play to be assessed for a potential concussion. This means that medical assessments take place on the pitch during a stoppage in play, a situation many in the game believe puts medical staff under too much pressure and limits the time available for checks to be made on the player.
If temporary substitutions were allowed, a player could be removed from the field for a concussion check and replaced by a substitute. If, after an off-pitch assessment, medical staff were happy that the player was safe to continue in the game, they would then be permitted to rejoin in place of the substitute.
IFAB is made up of five bodies: the Football Associations of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, and FIFA. Representatives will use the meeting on the 18th to consider the application and decide whether to allow trials to take place.
The meeting follows a series of high-profile concussion incidents in football, most notably at the men’s World Cup. A significant number of pundits and former pros have criticised current protocols and called for a change to be made to better protect players.
The Professional Footballers’ Association has consistently called for the introduction of temporary concussion substitutions and previously lobbied IFAB to change the laws in 2021.
Dr Adam White, the PFA’s Head of Brain Health, said:
“Football needs to ensure that its concussion protocols are as effective as they can be to protect player safety.
“The current approach means that concussion assessments are taking place on the pitch whilst a game, which might be being played in front of a packed stadium and a global TV audience, is paused. It puts medical staff under enormous pressure.
“We believe the addition of temporary substitutions would help reduce that pressure, allowing for concussion assessments to take place away from the pitch and in a more appropriate environment whilst the game is allowed to carry on, with no performance ‘punishment’ on a team who remove a player temporarily to check their fitness to continue.
He added that it was important for football to take a leadership role on issues of player welfare.
“Football must ensure that it does now allow itself to be perceived as lagging behind other sports when it comes to managing issues of player safety. Given its global profile, football should be a leader in this field.
“If we arrive at a situation where leagues, governing bodies and player unions unite around measures they believe would help protect players, but the game’s lawmakers are perceived to be holding them back, it could cause real difficulty.
“This is a chance for football to take a collective approach to what we believe increasingly feels like a common-sense next step in protecting player safety.”