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AFL announces strict new concussion protocols for 2021

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28th January, 2021
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Players who suffer a concussion will – barring a bye – miss at least one match under strict new concussion protocols introduced by the AFL ahead of the new season.

The new protocols – unveiled today and applying to both the AFL and AFLW – stipulate that a player who suffers a concussion will be sidelined for at least 12 days – potentially more depending on clinical evaluations. In 2020, the timeline was six days.

This means a player who is concussed will miss at least one match, potentially two, unless their team as a bye upcoming. During this time, they will participate in reduced individual training.

Additionally, only the AFL’s Chief Medical Officer is allowed to let a player initially withdrawn from a game on suspicion of concussion to return to the field.

In a statement released by the AFL, the league claimed their concussion guidelines are reviewed annually, with Chief Medical Officer Peter Harcourt and Deputy Chief Medical Officer Michael Makdissi working together to create the updated guidelines today.

The full statement by AFL general counsel Andrew Dillon is as follows.

“The updated concussion guidelines represent a significant step in the AFL’s existing record of ongoing improvements to its concussion management strategy that reflect medical research and other learnings over time.

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“The reality is we play a contact sport and there is always going to be risk, however over recent years we have continued to take action to strengthen match-day protocols and amend the Laws of the Game to discourage high contact. We also have used the technology that is embedded in the AFL ARC to provide another opportunity to identify potential concussive incidents that would not have otherwise been detected.

“The updated guidelines are the most stringent concussion protocols in Australian sport and we are committed to continuing to take action to protect the safety of players at all levels of the game.

Mr Dillon said the AFL was in the final stages of interviewing for a Concussion Lead at the League and expected the successful candidate to be appointed in the coming weeks.

“We continue to listen and learn and take action and the new role will specifically focus on the work that we are doing as an industry – both at the elite and community level – to deal with the important topic of concussion.”

The AFL was rocked last week following a post-mortem on former Richmond player Shane Tuck, who passed away aged just 38, revealed a shockingly serious case of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) – an irreversible brain disease caused by repeated blows to the head. Neuropathologist Michael Buckland declared it the “worst case [he’d] seen”.

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Post-mortems on Graham Farmer and Danny Frawley also revealed the presence of the disease.