Karius catalyst for concussion change is greater prize than World Cup successes
The World Cup has started in earnest, yet it was a club football story that until recently dominated the conversation amongst fans.
The story was that of the Liverpool goalkeeper - Loris Karius. Following his dreadful performance in the Champions League Final, Karius was the subject of intense scrutiny and criticism.
A goalkeeping error that costs the game is a story as old as football itself. Spanish goalkeeper, David de Gea, has already fallen foul of this unfortunate headline, when he misjudged Ronaldo’s effort in Spain’s opener against Portugal. So why was the Karius story talked about so much?
The nature of the mistakes by Karius, on the stage that he was on, meant it was also going to be a story of note.
However, news that Karius suffered concussion when he clashed with Ramos in the first half - before he had conceded any goals – gave the story oxygen and added a more serious complexion to it.
It is hard not to conclude that soccer has lagged behind other sports in dealing with the issue of head injuries.
Player welfare dominates the conversation in sports such as rugby.
Rules are often altered with player welfare being the only reason for such variation.
Rugby introduced the Head Injury Assessment (HIA) in 2012, which provides for a pitch side assessment of head injuries in every game. The GAA has also addressed the issue in recent times, through the introduction of the Concussion Management Guidelines.
It would be wrong to suggest that soccer has ignored the issue altogether.
We have seen the English FA publish concussion guidelines, following the findings of an expert panel set up in 2015.
It is also worthy of noting that undoubtedly, the more physical nature of sports such as rugby and gaelic games, means that the topic of concussion will inevitably be more prominent in these sports, as head injuries will quite simply be more common.
The response to the Karius incident was certainly positive.
The Union of European Football Associations (Uefa) immediately announced a plan to enable medical personnel to review potential concussions from the side-line, similar to the HIA system seen in rugby.
The collision that led to Karius suffering concussion was not picked up by the officials.
This latest proposal should close a rather glaring gap in the handling of head injuries in Europe at least.
Yet, we are still seeing players with head injuries in the World Cup being treated with a squirt of water and a gentle slap to the face, before being sent back out to play.
This was seen when Moroccan, Nordin Amrabat, suffered injury in Morocco’s defeat to Iran.
He was substituted a number of minutes after play resumed.
Amrabat has now been diagnosed with concussion, which begs the question why was he sent back out to play at all?
For those clubs and administrators who do not feel compelled by moral or ethical concerns, they may be swayed by the threat of litigation. We have seen a growing trend of sports participants taking legal action in cases involving concussion.
This was seen in rugby, when Jamie Cudmore took legal action against his former club Clermont Auvergne.
Cudmore alleged that his former employer acted negligently by allowing him to continue to play in the 2015 Champions Cup semi-final and final.
Clermont contested the case, which remains undetermined.
Cudmore is not the first sport participant, professional or amateur, to bring such an action.
In recent times we have seen an increasingly litigious approach being taken to sports injuries.
The majority of sports carry at least some risk of injury.
The question that arises is one of negligence and more particularly whether the sporting body or club has breached the duty of care that it owes to the participant.
Each case will always turn on its own facts.
Nobody knew Karius had suffered an injury and so there can be no suggestion that any of those involved in the Champions League final were in any way culpable.
What is clear is that sporting clubs and organisations must be seen to be taking a robust and uncompromising approach to these issues. Failure to do so will inevitably lead to more litigation.
Karius was blamed for Liverpool losing out on a sixth European Cup.
On reflection the winning of a cup seems rather trivial when placed in the context of the long-term impact head injuries can have on a player’s wellbeing.
If the Karius incident is catalyst for change in soccer, perhaps that is a greater prize than any number of European or World Cup successes.
** Paul Lenehan (Sports Lawyer at Edwards and Co, Belfast)
Twitter: @paul_lenehan; Email: firstname.lastname@example.org