NRL players union probed at major head trauma inquiry

NRL players union probed at major head trauma inquiry

A players association for one of the nation’s biggest sports could not say whether it considers a neurodegenerative disease associated with concussions to be an actual medical condition.

The Rugby League Players’ Association gave evidence to a parliamentary inquiry into concussion and repetitive head trauma in contact sports on Monday.

Player operations manager Jamie Buhrer told the inquiry he was “not at liberty” to say whether chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) was real.

He pressed further, conceding that the issue was outside his field of expertise.

“We will engage our medical advisers to form positions on medical conditions,” Mr Buhrer told the inquiry.

The Senate Committee is investigating the handling of repeated head trauma and concussion through contact sports, such as rugby league and the AFL, as well as the guidelines they apply.

It also looks at the long-term impact of concussion and repeated head trauma, including mental, physical, social and professional impact.

The Australian Rugby League Commission released its new guidelines for the 2023 season earlier this month, easing the requirements for the 18th player to be used.

The extra substitute player will now be able to be brought in if two rather than three teammates are ruled out due to a failed head injury assessment.

During Monday’s hearing, the Football Players’ Union told the inquiry it was pushing for the sport’s rules to be changed to allow more time for proper concussion recovery.

Currently, if a player sustains a suspected concussion on the field of play, the club doctor has three minutes to undertake an assessment before the game is resumed.

“The laws of the game do not facilitate a long enough period for that person to be removed and assessed,” Professional Footballers Australia co-chief executive Beau Busch said.

Earlier, the peak body for sports medicine in Australia defended its position that there is no clear causal link between repeated head trauma and CTE.

Sports Medicine Australia chief executive Jamie Crain indicated the organisation’s statement was under review.

“That’s not to say we’re necessarily swinging one way or the other,” he said.

SMA’s position, according to Dr Reidar Lystad, who is on its scientific advisory committee, is based on the 2017 International Consensus Statement on Concussion in Sport.

Dr Lystad said he expressed reservations about certain aspects of the report. He said the evidence “for a causal link” between repeated head trauma and neurodegenerative diseases such as CTE was “imperfect, but it is undeniable”.

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