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Has sport even been more important than ‘life and death’, and attitudes around player welfare are thankfully changing?

‘Some people believe football is a matter of life and death, I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that’

It is without doubt one the most famous sporting quotes ever, by legendary former Liverpool Football Club manager Bill Shankly.

Although made in jest, there has perhaps been an element of truth to it in terms of how sporting clubs and organisations have adopted a ‘win at all costs’ mentality in years gone by – certainly when you look at the very top level of professional sports.

And with that in mind, it has been good to see the important issue of player welfare being discussed as a major priority during what is one of the world’s biggest sporting occasions, The Rugby World Cup.

This week, Martin Raftery, World Rugby’s chief medical officer, has suggested the sport’s rules may have to change in order to reduce the number of concussions, as it has been reported that concussions in rugby have doubled in five years.

In the past, such injuries may have too easily been dismissed as ‘part and parcel’ of a physical, often brutal game.

But as specialists in handling a wide variety of personal injury cases, including sporting injuries, we at Hudgell Solicitors too often see the huge impact a serious head, brain or spinal injury can have on an individual’s life.

Often, life changes for ever, not just for the individual with the injury, but also for all those close to them.

No sporting win can ever be worth this kind of impact on a life, so it is great to see senior officials in one of the world’s highest profile sports discussing player safety so openly.

The key, however, in all sports, is filtering this responsibility down to those involved in the heart of the action, particularly in highly pressured and intense match situations.

As we reach the latter stages of this World Cup, how many coaches, whose jobs will rely on winning, will push their players to play on in the bid for glory, and how many will risk selection of a star player, knowing they are not fully fit?

Where will the line be drawn, and who will get the final say? Will it be team manager or team doctor?

In football, Premier League guidelines state any player who has suffered concussion must not play for at least six days after, and only once they are completely symptom free.

However, Chelsea came in for heavy criticism in May when they left their player Oscar on the pitch for half an hour after suffering a heavy blow to the head in a clash with Arsenal.

FA and Premier League guidelines state a player must be removed from the field of play and not be allowed to return if there is any suspicion of concussion. It is also made clear the decision must rest with the club doctor rather than the manager.

Of course, there was no suggestion that manager Jose Mourinho had any influence on the decision for him to remain on the field that day, but he and Chelsea faced further criticism when the same player was selected as substitute in Mourinho’s team just three days later.

The same club was again in the headlines last month, after a much-publicised spat between Mourinho and his team doctor Eva Carneiro.

The manager publically criticised Carneiro after she ran onto the field to treat Eden Hazard when he appeared injured, leading to him having to leave the field, causing Chelsea to be temporarily short of players.

“I was sure he hadn’t a serious problem. He had a knock, he was very tired. But my medical department – on an impulse – was naive and left me with eight outfield players in a counter-attack after a set piece,” Mourinho raged.

On that occasion, Mourinho was right, as his player was not seriously hurt.

Today though, as it has been confirmed that Carneiro has decided to leave the club, the question remains as to whether a doctor’s duty to protect and care for sporting competitors should always override a manager or coach’s desire to win.

Winning at all costs is certainly not a healthy way to approach any sporting contest, no matter how big the prize is at stake. Let’s hope doctors, managers and players remember that in the search for glory as The Rugby World Cup progresses.

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