Head injuries and concussion issues

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Book Chapter

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Greenhow, A., & Gowthorp, L. (2017). Head injuries and concussion Issues. In N. Schulenkorf & S. Frawley (Eds.), Critical Issues in Global Sport Management (pp. 93-111). Oxon: Routledge.

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© 2017 Nico Schulenkorf and Stephen Frawley




Sports-related concussion is an important and complex issue, but it is not a new phenomenon. Meehan and Bachur (2009) traced early forms of sports-related concussion to 776 B.C. in the sports of wrestling and fist fighting. The physical risks of contact and collision sports (Luntz, 1980) and challenges of managing injuries (Mitten, 1993), particularly return-to-play or practice decisions, are reoccurring themes across sport, across jurisdictions and across disciplines. However, the recent growth of public awareness regarding sports-related concussion – fuelled by litigation, concussion-related deaths and links to long-term degenerative brain disease – raises questions about the adequacy of the decisions made by rule-makers, including their roles, responsibilities and assessments of risk. It also exposes tensions that arise in balancing the interests of player health and welfare on the one hand, with commercial interests and spectator demands on the other.

From a management and governance perspective, it is important to consider the role of international and national sporting organisations in determining where responsibilities lie and in determining who is responsible for setting rules regarding sports-related concussions. For the purposes of this chapter, the organisation with the greatest responsible for rule-making (i.e., ultimate rule-maker) for the sport will be referred to as the sport governing body. Key issues for consideration include whether the relevant sport governing body has recognised the issue, the emphasis it places on the risks involved (and where it sits on its risk agenda) and whether the sport governing body has promulgated rules and implemented appropriate policies and procedures to limit or reduce risk.

From a legal perspective, considerations include whether the sport governing body has taken reasonable care over the years to protect and enhance the safety of participants in their sport, and whether the particular sport has kept abreast of evolving science and research on sportsrelated concussion. A retrospective analysis of research demonstrates that this issue has been dominated by scientific efforts to establish the epidemiology of sports-related concussion.

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This document has been peer reviewed.