The violent, accidental collision early in the World Cup championship game was disturbing to watch. Christoph Kramer of Germany collided with an Argentine player, Kramer’s head snapped back upon contact, and he slumped to the ground. We see the collision on the video included in this article by Josh Levin, and we can hear one of the television commentators remark that Kramer tried to stand up, only to fall back down on his first attempt to get to his feet.

Kramer left the match, as one would expect, but incredibly, Kramer soon returned to the match and played for another 15 minutes before removing himself from the game. The most watched sporting event on the planet thus served as an example of exactly what should not happen in a sporting event if and when one of the participants suffers a head injury. One wonders what Germany’s team doctors were thinking.

One also wonders what the leaders of FIFA, soccer’s international governing body, are thinking about in terms of how to address the significant health and safety risks that we now all know are associated with blows to the head. The message from the World Cup appears to be, “Tough it out.” In other words, the same message American footballers heard for decades. The same message we now know to be dangerous to the health of the players.

Two other disturbing events at the recent World Cup also generated considerable public outcry over the seemingly cavalier attitude FIFA has taken regarding head injuries.

In the June 19 contest between Uruguay and England, Alvaro Pereira of Uruguay appeared to be hurt seriously after taking a knee to his head. Check out this link in an article by Eric Freeman for video of Pereira’s actions as he defies medical advice not to return to the contest. You don’t need to be a doctor to see that all is not right with Pereira after this blow to the head. Yet, Pereira returned to the game.

As ESPN analyst and former professional soccer player Taylor Twellman tweeted after this match, “Hey Sepp Blatter let me know when you want to address head injuries in our game. Pereira should have been taken off. Has to stop.” Blatter, of course, is the embattled president of FIFA. Twellman suffered severe head injuries as a player, so this topic is of great importance to him.

It is a measure of the cynicism that exists in top-level soccer today that some people questioned whether Pereira was actually staying on the ground and pretending to be unconscious in an effort to sway the referee to give the English player a yellow or red card. If that was acting, it certainly was convincing.

Another significant event took place in the July 9 match between Argentina and The Netherlands. Argentine player Javier Mascherano and a Dutch player clashed heads, and as Mascherano left the field he appeared to be dazed and unsteady on his feet as a result of the collision. However, Mascherano soon returned to the contest. Please see this article by Kartik Krishnaiyer for a good recap of the events. I especially found this comment by the author to be of interest:

“The recognition of the difficulties around head injuries is something that seems to offend the sensibilities of people who want to see top athletes “tough it out” during the course of soccer games. FIFA has made absolutely no effort to change this thinking partly because of the complicity of many of the top writers who cover the sport.”

If true, that is a particularly damning indictment of the media.

The FIFA website does contain material related to player health and safety. In fact, the FIFA website references several works authored in part by Dr. Robert Cantu, one of the recipients of ISLE’s 2014 ETHOS award for his outstanding work as a pioneer in the area of sports-related concussions.

The problem would appear to be that FIFA, although recognizing the science that documents the dangers, has done little to actually take charg target=”_blank”e of this issue, as this article notes. I recommend the linked article, written by Dan Diamond for Forbes, because the author proposes solutions. In particular, I think a change to FIFA’s substitution rules to allow a free substitution for a player suspected of having a concussion, as Diamond suggests, would be positive.

Until FIFA takes meaningful action, soccer will suffer, and more importantly, the men and women who play this wonderful game will suffer.

I welcome your thoughts. Thanks.

1 Comment » for Head Injuries in the World Cup:  Does FIFA Care?
  1. “… health and safety risks that we now all know are associated with blows to the head …” The question that suggests itself though is: are those injuries as severe as those that are tolerated as a matter of course in e.g. professional boxing? Judging from what I have seen in both sports, maybe these head injuries (well, were they injuries?) I believe those tolerated in boxing are still much more severe. We would then first have to discuss whether blows to the head are to be treated differently in different sports. Certainly when it comes to litigation, they are and must be. In soccer and football a deliberate blow to the head is probably a punishable offense, if it were in boxing then the sport of boxing would not even exist. But that then poses the question: is FIFA responsible for more than that? Is FIFA not just responsible only for laying down a set of rules by which referees are to discourage such behavior, e.g. by the typical reprimands, red and yellow cards etc.? And is it not the employer’s responsibility, i.e. the coach of the national equipe in this case or the club’s coaches and their board of executives in most other cases?