FIFPro represents over 60,000 players and the WLF represents 45 national professional leagues, including the Premier League and Major League Soccer in the United States, and there is deep frustration that Ifab would defy such a powerful lobby.
Nobby Stiles died in 2020 from chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a form of dementia caused by headbutts, and his son John believes players should now be prepared to stand up for their own safety. He is also critical of the PFA’s funding scheme, which relies heavily on Premier League broadcasting revenues, and how that could jeopardize their approach.
“If the players had a good union, they would threaten to strike”
“If your health was at risk in another industry, you would be talking about a strike,” Stiles said. So where is the union? The model is broken. It is not fit for purpose. If the players had a good union, they would threaten to go on strike.
“Thousands of players have died from repeated heads. It’s only a matter of time before players die on the field. Second Impact Syndrome is incredibly dangerous.”
Stiles says he has written to all 92 clubs in the professional pyramid and the Women’s Super League to offer to talk to players about the risks of repeated headings and concussions.
“I’m not against headers – but the players have a right to know the risk,” said Stiles, who described his attempts to access the players through their clubs as “like hitting a brick wall”.
The PFA, the Premier League and the Football Association have all pushed for temporary concussions to be introduced.
Dawn Astle, whose father Jeff died 21 years ago on the day of CTE and heads the PFA’s new dementia unit, accused football lawmakers of “holding back player safety”.
Professor Willie Stewart, the Glasgow neuropathologist who found post-mortem CTE in the brains of Nobby Stiles and Jeff Astle, added: “Welcome to 2023. Unless you’re football regulators still in the last century.”
A joint statement from FIFPro and the WLF said they would “consider our options moving forward” and there has been private talk about whether a league would simply ignore Ifab’s ‘rules of the game’ and bring in their own temporary concussion replacements .
Some lawyers have also argued that football exposes itself to legal action from a player if it could be argued that concussion protocols are inadequate. A statement from FIFPro and the WLF revealed that they were signatories to the Global Labor Agreement, which follows the rights at work established by the United Nations International Labor Organization.
After Wednesday’s meeting, Ifab said “no consensus had been reached” on temporary concussion replacements and the topic is still under review. They also said it would aim to improve the ongoing and indefinite trial of permanent concussion replacements.
Comment: Ifab’s intransigence is astonishing
Dr. Adam White, Head of Brain Health, Professional Footballers’ Association
Behind closed doors at Wembley, Ifab – football’s legislators – met this week to decide whether to allow trials of temporary concussion replacements.
That decision was the result of an application supported by a range of players’ unions and leagues, including the Professional Footballers’ Association and the Premier League.
The request was simple. Have leagues introduce trials of temporary concussion replacements as a way to support medical staff and give them a valuable additional resource to ensure concussion assessments are as effective and safe as possible.
The answer was ‘no’. Despite the backing of the English Football Association, one of Ifab’s members, the message was that we wouldn’t see temporary concussion replacements in the foreseeable future.
To describe that decision as a disappointment doesn’t really do it justice. To many, including those like the PFA who have lobbied and campaigned so hard for their introduction, it is simply baffling.
It’s a decision that also raises fundamental questions about the relationship between the game and those who play it.
In terms of temporary concussion, we have reached a point in the English game where the players’ union, the Premier League and the governing body all support their introduction and believe it is a measure that will better protect player safety. There is a similar consensus among stakeholders in France and the US.
However, they are stopped by those who make the laws.
There’s a serious problem if the game gets ahead of its legislators in player safety. The MLS, along with its players’ union the MLSPA, were seeking permission to begin trials when their domestic season begins next month. They firmly believe that this is the right thing to do.
Again, they have been told no. What are the consequences if a serious player security incident occurs now, where there is even the slightest suggestion that a temporary concussion replacement protocol might have been helpful? For example, how does this decision affect collective bargaining agreements between players unions and leagues and the position they take on player safety measures? Can they really agree to take all measures to best protect player safety?
Unions and leagues will now meet to discuss next steps in the coming days. Those talks will involve FIFPro, the global players’ union, and their counterparts at the World Leagues Forum.
The consensus and momentum behind temporary concussion replacements has never been greater. High-profile incidents involving concussions and widespread concerns about the effectiveness of current measures had focused minds and increased scrutiny.
There is now much more awareness among players about their safety. This is not only true in football, but in all sports. Greater consideration is being given to the long-term health effects and, crucially, the responsibility their sport has to ensure they are protected.
Despite that, with its approach to concussion protocols, football has once again shown that it is lagging behind on a major player safety issue.