21 August 2019 | Comment | Article by Cari Sowden-Taylor

Safety in sport – does more need to be done in relation to head injuries?

After the thrilling finish to the 2019 Cricket World Cup this summer, the commencement of the Ashes Test Series between England and Australia is now providing further entertainment for cricket fans around the world.

However, the issue of safety in sport has again attracted headlines following the end of the second match of the series. On day four of the match, England debutant Jofra Archer produced an exhilarating spell of bowling to Australia’s premier batsman, Steve Smith. This came to a sudden and shocking climax as a delivery from Archer struck Smith on the back of the left side of his head.

Common sense initially prevailed as Smith was removed from the field. Despite this, within one hour, Smith returned to the field and recommenced his innings. Whilst many spectators in the ground stood to applaud the bravery and stoicism demonstrated by Smith, others expressed concern regarding whether he should have been allowed to return to the field.

Headway, a leading brain injury charity that the Hugh James Neurolaw department works closely with, has commented that it was “incredibly dangerous” for Smith to resume his innings. Headway deputy chief executive, Luke Griggs, stated that regarding concussion, an ‘if in doubt, sit it out’ approach needs to be taken.

Following his return to the field of play, the normally unflappable Smith appeared out-of-sorts, and was dismissed after opting not to attempt a shot at a straight delivery. The following morning, a second test revealed that Smith had suffered concussion, and he therefore missed the final day of action.

The question is: despite Smith passing the initial concussion test before resuming his innings, should he have been allowed to return? It is alarming that after suffering a heavy blow to an area of his head that was not protected by his helmet, Smith was allowed to continue playing within an hour.

With Archer bowling at speeds of up to 96mph, the reaction time for batsmen was a mere 0.4 seconds. As Luke Griggs has commented, concussion can lead to blurred vision and a reduced ability to process information quickly. The delayed reaction times that concussion inevitably brings created an extremely dangerous scenario for Smith upon his return to the field.

Following the tragic death of Australian cricketer Phillip Hughes following a blow to his head in 2014, neck guard additions to helmets have become more commonplace. However, these are yet to be made mandatory, and Smith’s refusal to use this resulted in the ball hitting an exposed area of his head. After this latest incident, it appears that the time has come to again look at making neck guards mandatory in the sport of cricket.

The sport of cricket has made some vital step forwards regarding head injuries. The International Cricket Council (ICC) recently introduced new rules allowing replacements for players suffering concussion. Nevertheless, the ICC’s concussion regulations simply state that a player must have medical clearance before returning to cricket. This brief regulation means that it is possible that Smith will play in the third match of the series, which starts merely five days after the incident.

This policy contrasts with World Rugby’s requirement that players must have physical rest for a minimum of one week, and satisfy numerous conditions, prior to returning to the field. It therefore appears that whilst progress is being made, there is a lack of consistency across different sports regarding head injuries and there are still significant questions over whether the rules and governing bodies are doing enough to protect players.

Hugh James is a leading firm of specialist solicitors which represents clients who have sustained brain injury as a result of someone else’s fault. For more information regarding our services visit our brain injury page.

Disclaimer: The information on the Hugh James website is for general information only and reflects the position at the date of publication. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be treated as such. If you would like to ensure the commentary reflects current legislation, case law or best practice, please contact the blog author.

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