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by Lisa Albergo reporting for AFANA from Chicago

In late March, representatives from the various footballing codes and medical experts will hold a two-day conference to examine the current practices, treatment, research, effects and management of concussion in sports. Experts from around the world will be in attendance.

Among the issues to be addressed are current best practice management of concussion at elite and community level, the latest research on the short and possible longer term effects of concussion, putting concussion research into practice, priorities for concussion related research now and into the future and the implementation of outcomes from the 2012 Zurich International Conference on Concussion in Sport.

AFL Medical Director Dr Peter Harcourt said the conference will provide an opportunity for all codes to discuss and benefit from the latest findings. Harcourt said the AFL was serious about the welfare of both past and present players and that the League has for several years been working to better understand concussions and take measures to minimize risks to players. AFL representatives will make presentations on their rules and penalties in regards to protecting the head and neck of players, revised guidelines for a more conservative approach to managing concussion in line with international practices, education and raising awareness at community levels of the competition, regularly updated guidelines and increased knowledge by working with experts and long-term research.

According to Harcourt, the AFL already takes a more conservative approach than that suggested. He reiterated the stringent guidelines already in place as well as the extensive work the League has already undertaken, saying "A range of projects are underway to build our knowledge, increase awareness and further enhance our concussion management strategies." The AFL is also planning on further changes to the guidelines for the 2013 season. One change would be a concussed player not returning to play or train until medically cleared.

In recent times, one of the biggest concerns is the brain damage which can be caused by multiple concussions over a period of time. The condition, known as Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), can only be diagnosed post-mortem. However, published evidence is unclear regarding concussions contributing to mental deterioration. This is another area into which the AFL is researching in an effort to assess long-term risks through medical technologies such as scanning.

Another item which has been requested by club doctors for the agenda would be the introduction of an extra substitute on the bench. That substitute would be there to replace a player who comes off with suspected concussion. It is a move supported by Carlton Coach Mick Malthouse who said that when it came to concussion and concussion assessment on game day, it was completely up to the doctor to make the call.

Former player Greg Williams was interviewed on television in late February and said he does not remember large parts of his 250 game career with Geelong, Sydney and Carlton. He said he remembers winning the 1995 Grand Final and the Brownlow Medal in 1994, but remembers nothing of the game or anything in the rooms afterward. He went on to say he has trouble with simple things like remembering where his keys are. He, along with six other AFL and rugby players, have been participating in a study at Deakin University. All have been found to be suffering from some sort of brain disorder, possibly due to the head knocks and concussions suffered during their playing days. Williams believes current players should have a one or two month layoff after being knocked out, depending on the severity of the injury.

Just a few days later, Geelong's Joel Selwood admitted that the prospect of a similar fate was "scary", but said it would be difficult for him to change the way he plays. Former teammate Cameron Mooney said on SEN Radio that he feared for Selwood because he could be one hard knock away from ending his career. Selwood did concede that if told by medical experts to change certain elements of his kamikaze style or wear a helmet, he would. Williams also mentioned Selwood, saying he was "too courageous for his own good" and that the club needed to do more to protect him from himself. Selwood is already well aware of the need to come off the ground and stay off if he doesn't feel right and said the club is already doing everything to ensure his welfare.

Former Swan and Bulldog Barry Hall also spoke up, saying he remembers Brett Kirk sometimes laying in the rooms after a game "talking gibberish" after suffering head knocks.

Source: theage.com.au, heraldsun.com.au, afl.com.au, sen.com.au, Patrick Keane, AFL Media Release

Article last changed on Tuesday, March 19, 2013 - 7:11 AM EDT


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