Plaintiffs in a proposed class action injury lawsuit scored a major goal in an action targeting the U.S. Soccer Federal, Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), the U.S. Youth Soccer Association Inc., National Association of Competitive Soccer Clubs Inc., California Youth Soccer Association and the American Youth Soccer Organization.
The New York Times reported that as part of an effort to resolve the Meher et al v. FIFA et al litigation, it would impose a series of safety initiatives specifically aimed at reducing head injuries for players – particularly women and children. The policy would set strict limits on young players, expressly banning participants under the age of 10 from “heading” the ball. Players between the ages of 11 and 13 will be required to significantly reduce the number of “headers” they can take on in practice.
Regulations will be required for all U.S. Soccer youth national academies and teams – which will include Major League Soccer Youth clubs. However, the rules will remain “recommendations” for development programs and other soccer associations that under the control of U.S. Soccer.
The chief medical officer for U.S. Soccer stated in a media conference call that the idea is to reduce the amount of potential exposure to head injuries. He noted that while the science on the connection between youth soccer and concussions is still evolving, he vowed the league’s policies would evolve with it. Although the specifics of the initiative won’t be unveiled until later this month, the agency stated it will require additional education for coaches, referees, parents and players on the issue of head injuries. There will also be uniform guidelines to follow when a head injury is suspected.
As it now stands, teams at the senior level are only allowed three substitutions in every game, and there is no protocol in place to ensure proper medical evaluation when a player suffers a head injury.
This is indeed a start. However, there are concerns that this will not do enough to curb child injuries in connection with the sport. A study published in the September 2015 issue of the Journal of American Medical Association Pediatrics analyzed head injuries occurring in some three million high school soccer practices and games between 2005 and 2014. Firstly, it found out that soccer-related concussion injuries rose sharply during this time among both male and female players. Secondly, it revealed that “heading” was not the No. 1 cause of player injury. That distinction went to player-to-player contact, which accounted for almost 70 percent of soccer-related concussions among boys and 51 percent of concussions among girls.
Still, heading was a serious problem. Heading accounted for about a third of all concussions involving male players and about a quarter of concussions involving female players. So while banning heading among young players is significant, it won’t solve the problem entirely.
Some argue it would be more effective to teach younger players better sportsmanship, more effective technique and to encourage referees to be more consistent in calling fouls when players slam into each other (which would discourage such action).
Plaintiffs in the class action sought no money, but rather rule changes that would limit heading, allow for more medical substitutions during games and grant funding for medical monitoring of current and former players, dating back to 2002.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report high school athletes account for 2 million injuries annually, and more than half of those are preventable.
If you have been injured in an accident, contact the Hollander Law Firm at (888) 751-7770 for a free and confidential consultation. There is no fee unless we win.
U.S. Soccer, Resolving Lawsuit, Will Limit Headers for Youth Players, Nov. 9, 2015, By Ben Strauss, The New York Times
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