In rugby, awareness of player concussions

The figures are alarming. According to a study by a team from the University of Glasgow, in October 2022, former rugby players are two and a half times more likely than the general population to develop neurodegenerative diseases. The researchers looked at 412 former Scottish rugby internationals before comparing them to 1,200 people from the general population. They reveal, for example, that the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease is three times higher.

In recent decades, professional rugby has shifted towards a more physical and faster game. Players have gained muscle mass, making shocks particularly violent, and concussions more frequent. But until a few years ago, few people took into account the severity and duration of symptoms. “There has always been this tradition, like in war: if you haven’t had your face torn off by a shell, it’s because you’re fit for combat. Looking more closely, we realize that it is still much more complex »analyzes Jean-François Chermann, neurologist, specialist in France for concussions in athletes.

Changing mindsets

According to this amateur player, rugby is not dangerous, but should be practiced with caution. This requires medical supervision, at all levels, which he helped to put in place. “We voted for the HIA criteria in 2013”, he recalls. These evaluation criteria following a head injury, dubbed “concussion protocol” in France, were developed to “Improve the management of head injuries”especially in cases where “the diagnosis is not immediately apparent”, says World Rugby. In addition to this medical framework, there is a framework for the rules. “There has been a total reform on the entry into the scrum, or on the way of making the keys, for example”, reminds the specialist.

Finally, the doctor notes a precious change in mentalities. “At the time, we had a real underestimation of the troubles, the players did not want to hear about it and participated in this omerta. »

The amateur world must progress

Since then, many cases of players having attacked their clubs in court for negligence have contributed to this increased vigilance by sports authorities. Last case to date, the rugby player Alexandre Lapandry, who suffers from the after-effects of a stroke following shocks. In December 2022, he filed several complaints against ASM Clermont-Auvergne, in particular for endangering the lives of others.

The evolutions of professional rugby must now spread to the amateur world. Today, 50% of concussed athletes, all sports combined, remain on the playing area. In rugby, since the HIA protocols, this figure has fallen from 50% to 18%. Other initiatives are emerging: the neurosurgeon David Brauge has established a protocol, after a concussion, intended for all general practitioners. The idea is to rely on this local network of caregivers accessible to all amateurs in the country.



Health of athletes: should headers be banned in football?

► “A threshold should be set around 18-20 years old”

Jean-Chazal, neurosurgeon

“The brain is a fragile organ. Athletes protect themselves with muscles that they work on a daily basis, but a certain number of organs, including the brain, cannot build muscle and remain as they are. The brain remains in a box that is protected by the same envelope, regardless of the sport. In football, a header can lead to a micro-injury, albeit anecdotal. But the repetition of these mini-shocks can have long-term consequences.

Today, it is estimated that the brain reaches full maturation around the age of 35, which is equivalent to the age at the end of an athlete’s career. We manufacture interconnects up to 25 years. Banning headers in football in general seems impossible, but you have to be aware that the brain is all the more sensitive when the subject is young.

I would be in favor of setting a threshold. That around 18-20 years old, heads in football are prohibited. After all, in society, on a social or legal level for example, you have pivotal ages: you have to be 18 to vote because it is believed that this is the age when you acquire the necessary maturity. In sport, it should be the same. Given the fragility of brains, there should also be a pivotal age in sport. »

► “Better to monitor than to prohibit at all costs”

Benjamin Bazeillehead of the SU Dives Cabourg football school

“I know in Scotland they have legislation to ban heads before the age of 12. In France, this is not yet the case. It is quite common that we question, because of scientific advances, what was done before.

I knew as a young player, a football where you could make headers and I’m not doing badly today. As an educator, it’s complicated to teach a youngster not to make a head during the course of the game. If the latter finds himself in a position to score in this way, for example, how do you expect the message is heard?

In my sessions, I encourage young people to practice full football, but in training, I do not insist on this practice. So to speak, the specific workshops on heading game are very episodic. Over a month of sessions, we may do a single rehearsal for the heads. Moreover, young children rarely put this into practice: on corners or set pieces, they generally prefer to set foot.

One way or another, we will always find reasons to change football. Legislating on heads would be one of them and I don’t think it’s a good idea. It is necessary to supervise more medically the young people rather than to prohibit with all goes. »



In England, the “greenest football club in the world”

In the south of England evolves a very particular football club. Playing in League One, the third English division, the Forest Green Rovers are considered to be one of the most advanced sports organizations in terms of ecology. Awarded by the UN in 2019 as the “the greenest club in the world”he relies, among other things, on his pesticide-free lawn, his solar panels and his 100% vegan canteen to confirm his notoriety.

A club recognized for its action

British Commonwealth Sports Minister from 2020 to 2022, Nigel Huddleston did not fail to salute the club’s unprecedented efforts: “Forest Green Rovers have rightly been recognized by the United Nations and Fifa as pioneers among eco-responsible football clubs, and it is great to see their initiatives being adopted within the League,” he rejoiced in November 2021, during a meeting preceding COP26, in Glasgow. “These initiatives put football clubs forward, demonstrating their actions for the planet. »

It remains to be seen whether this virtuous model can be reproduced elsewhere. “Not all clubs have a wealthy man at their head who is aware and invested in ecological issues as is the case for Forest Green Rovers”, warns Antoine Miche, president of the Football Ecology France association, which campaigns for ecological football. While pointing out that money is not what is missing in football. “Since it’s there, you might as well use it for good reasons”, he pleads.

A possibility and even a duty in the eyes of the president of Forest Green Rovers, Dale Vince. “Business and business got us in this mess (ecological). So business has to get us out of it”, he launched in November 2021 in a promotional video.

Combining sports results and environmental results

In twenty-five years, the wealthy entrepreneur, who built his empire in the wind sector, has seen mentalities change. “When I started twenty-five years ago, you couldn’t even buy green energy in the world,” he remembers in an interview given to the British media The New European. “Today it’s everywhere and the technology has matured, it’s become the cheapest form of energy we can produce. The last frontier in solving sustainable development issues lies in political decision-making. »

While political will is essential, some club and league leaders fear that environmental issues will take precedence over sporting issues. Wrongly, according to Antoine Miche. “Forest Green Rovers have proven that you can achieve positive sporting and non-sporting results in the sameno time, underlines the president of the Football Ecology France association. Each year, the club progresses by climbing into a higher league while remaining true to its image of the greenest club in the world. »