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'The way the media cover it you'd think everyone was going to get concussed every game'

The IRFU’s Head of Medical Services is not happy with some coverage of concussion.

Rod McLoughlin is happy to see how fans are now reacting to concussion.
Rod McLoughlin is happy to see how fans are now reacting to concussion.
Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

DURING THE 2014 football World Cup, Germany’s Christoph Kramer played on for 14 minutes after suffering a concussion. Afterwards, he admitted that he asked Italian referee Nicola Rizzoli “is this really the World Cup final?”

This was football’s biggest stage and the sport let one of its players down.

During this year’s rugby version, Australia’s Matt Giteau played no further part in the final after he was knocked unconscious in the first half when trying to tackle New Zealand’s Brodie Retallick.

The days of calling players ‘brave’ or ‘heroic’ for carrying on after a knock to the head are slowly but surely coming to an end.

That’s a good thing says the IRFU’s head of Medical Services Dr. Rod McLoughlin who was speaking at the 2015 Web Summit this afternoon.

“Three or four years you would have looked at a rugby match and see the crowd actually clap and be happy when a player with an injury, and potential concussion comes back on.

“That’s changing. A lot of people since the World Cup final have said to me that they’re actually happy that Matt Giteau, the Australian, didn’t go back on. When the crowd are beginning to react like that you know you’re beginning to win the culture battle.

“That’s about recognising but we also need to look at how we cut down on the incidents of concussion. At the World Cup, there was a great focus on any tackle that was close to the neck as therefore has a higher risk of causing a concussion.

“We haven’t got the figures yet but certainly the perception was that there were less concussions in this World Cup so we are looking now at moving to potential rule changes to continue to prevent concussions from happening.”

Matt Giteau Australia's Matt Giteau. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

However, McLoughlin says that the media coverage of concussion is not always appropriate and suggested that there was a perception that concussion was a more frequent occurrence than it actually is.

“There’s a lot of fear and concern out there about concussion and it’s risks on health but if we have people giving up sporting activity for a not yet defined risk, then you have people who are going to have other illnesses.

“I think concussion is a genuine problem that needs to be recognised and managed appropriately and the vast majority that are managed appropriately have no long term effects.

“I do think we are in an era where there is a lot of focus on concussion and some of the coverage is inappropriate. For example, playing in a rugby match there’s about one concussion in every 30. That means the vast majority of players will go through a season and not be concussed.

“But the way the media cover it you’d think everyone was going to get concussed every game and there has to be a balance because that sort of coverage is not without its concerns.”

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McLoughlin also claimed there was a difference in the way media cover concussion in rugby compared to other sports.

“At the moment, there’s a belief in Ireland that the only place you can get a concussion is on a rugby pitch which is crazy. 

You can get a concussion on any sporting pitch and we need people to understand that.

“We have to accept the nature of our game is that we do have a higher incidence of concussion than other sports.

“But we set a very low bar in terms of diagnosing concussion so, if you run into somebody on a rugby pitch, no clash of heads, you fall to the ground and stagger when you get up, under rugby rules you’re off with a suspected concussion.

“If you applied that to most other sports in Ireland you’d be watching games where we’d be demanding many other people off.

“It is really interesting to watch the media watch a rugby match and look where’s the next concussion and then the same people watching a different sport, seeing the same incidents and it doesn’t even cross their mind there may be a concussion.

“It’s a real cultural issue.”

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Steve O'Rourke

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