AFL players are pushing for independent medical advice for concussions. Photo: Anthony Johnson
AFL players are pushing for independent medical advice to determine the fate of potentially concussed players at league games.
High-level talks at AFL headquarters this week, between the AFL and the AFL Players Association, are understood to have seen the players expressing some frustration over the handling of concussion and seeking tougher protocols during games.
Acting players' boss Ian Prendergast told Fairfax Media he remained concerned that lower-end concussion cases were not being adequately handled. ''I still think it's important to get the player off in those circumstances to explore concussion,'' he said.
''By the end of the year, we really need to have tougher protocols in place and a more clear expectation of how we treat low-end concussion and whether it's appropriately assessed. If not, further damage could be done during the game if that player comes back on.''
A guarded Prendergast refused to comment on specific cases, but it is believed Tuesday's meeting saw several instances raised including that of Geelong's Allen Christensen in early June.
Christensen, who has a history of concussion, was allowed back onto the field minutes after receiving a head knock against the Gold Coast. Geelong coach Chris Scott said at the time he welcomed an AFL investigation into the incident, but was strongly defensive of his club doctor Chris Bradshaw.
It is understood the Cats have since conceded the Scat3 concussion test should have been completed on Christensen to eliminate the possibility of concussion.
The AFL's football operations boss, Mark Evans, said the league would explore the introduction of an independent doctor - whom the AFLPA has suggested could work with the club doctor in concussion cases - but said the prevailing view of his medical officers was that testing should be completed by doctors with intimate knowledge of the players concerned.
Evans said he agreed that clearer protocols should be introduced and added that a conference on the subject in recent weeks conducted by the AFL medical officers had also recommended some potential fine-tuning of the concussion substitute rule.
''We agree there needs to be greater clarity,'' said Evans. ''But our investigations to date suggest that some systems internationally involving independent medical officers sees those doctors less conservative than those who better know the athlete involved.''
Prendergast said: ''Everyone's got a role to play to ensure the players' interests are protected in this,'' he said.
''The clubs and the club doctors in correctly assessing incidents of concussion; the AFL with its protocols and the players who need to respect the injury and its consequences.''
The AFLPA has contacted some 2000 former players and urged them to undergo an initial concussion questionnaire. Those who return information that raises alarm will be contacted and advised to complete a second survey.
Florey Institute researchers and AFL medical director Dr Peter Harcourt will then determine which players should be referred for brain scanning. To date, some 500 players have responded to the anonymous survey.
The season has seen a number of serious concussion cases - most recently Heath Shaw was sidelined due to bleeding on the brain and on Sunday Reece Conca was stretchered from the Etihad Stadium arena after a heavy knock. A bewildered Robbie Gray was later taken from the same game late in the final quarter with what appeared to be concussion symptoms.
The NFL in the US reached a $US765 million settlement with 4500 former players last year. Prendergast said it was wise for Australian rules to be proactive.
''My view is that if there are clear protocols in place, then it simply removes the confusion and destigmatises concussion absolutely.''