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Australian athletes groups join forces to tackle concussion management

Australian athletes groups join forces to tackle concussion management
August 30, 2016

Amid concerns that Australian sports stars are still feeling pressured to return to play prematurely after concussions, players' unions representing athletes in eight major sports have joined together to form a concussion working group.

The Australian Athletes' Alliance (AAA) group plans to drive a cultural change around concussion in sport and create guidelines across all codes to ensure transparency and independence in the management of injuries.

The AAA, which represents more than 3,500 members through the players' unions of eight sports including Australian rules, football, cricket, horse racing, netball, basketball and the rugby codes, hopes a collaborative approach will help ensure there is greater independence and transparency when it comes to concussion management and research.

Announcing the working group, brain injury expert Dr Alan Pearce stated “we need to get to the position where all sports are utilising standard protocols of brain injury assessment.

"They've been working independently for quite some time and in the last 1.5 to two years, they've started to talk to each other and realise that as a group they can have a lot more leverage," he said.

Dr Pearce said while the professional leagues had started to take the issue of concussion seriously, the message still had not flowed through to all lower level competitions.

He added “(we) need a cultural change towards the issue of concussion — that it's no longer a badge of honour to take a hit to the head.

“At the elite levels they have policies and medical teams to look after the players, but at the community level you don't have that support.”

Dr Pearce said the first step was to make people aware of the seriousness of concussions, explaining “(after) most concussions, people just say, 'I'm OK, there's not a problem'.

"They should go and get checked out at the hospital just to make sure there's no further damage."

AAA Board Member and Rugby League Players Association Chief Executive Ian Prendergast, who will Chair the working group, said his experience in professional sport made it clear to him that more needed to be done to address the issue.

Prendergast stated “(we need to) continue shifting the culture regarding concussion to ensure athlete and support staff respect the measures in place.”

The former AFL player continued “we also need to protect players from themselves … they want to play, especially when the stakes increase around finals and significant competition.

“These measures really need to take that out of the players’ hands.”

Dr Pearce said Australia lagged behind other countries in researching and responding to concussion, and funding was a key reason for this deficiency.

He concluded “currently we do not have enough financial support to undertake the required research here in Australia.

“All of the major sports have responsibility – a duty of care in terms of funding research.

“We think that now that we’re taking this coordinated approach we’re more likely to be able to access funding.”

Australian Athletes' Alliance members:

Australian Cricketers' Association (ACA)
Australian Football League Players' Association (AFLPA)
Australian Jockeys' Association (AJA)
Australian Netball Players' Association (ANPA)
Australian Basketballers' Association (ABA)
Professional Footballers Australia (PFA)
Rugby League Players Association (RLPA)
Rugby Union Players' Association (RUPA)

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