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Time for Fifa to step up

- World body draws flak for failing to take measures on concussion risk

London: Fifa was, on Thursday, accused of turning a blind eye to the “ticking time bomb” of concussion by FifPro, the global footballers’ union, which reiterated its demand for the introduction of independent sideline assessments.

On Wednesday night, during Argentina’s semi-final victory against Holland, Javier Mascherano clashed heads with Georginio Wijnaldum in the 27th minute. The Barcelona midfielder displayed every visible sign of concussion, according to Fifa’s own guidelines, which demand an immediate withdrawal of any player suspected of being concussed, but, shamefully, the Argentinian was allowed to continue.

Alvaro Pereira, the Uruguay defender, also played on after being knocked out by Raheem Sterling’s knee in their group-stage victory over England. The Uruguay medical team were seen calling for his substitution only to be overruled by the player, underlying their helplessness as occupational health physicians.

Fifa has tried to distance itself from such occurrences, arguing that it is the responsibility of individual football associations to police concussion malpractice. Yet with mounting evidence of a link between repeated concussions and the onset of neurodegenerative diseases, as well as the potentially fatal risk of second-impact syndrome, FIFPro says the world governing body needs to act before a tragedy occurs.

“They have something on paper that’s very pretty but it’s not enforced because it is only a guideline that is being enforced by team physicians,” Andrew Orsatti, a FifPro spokesman, said.

“It is instructive in other sports that there has to be a clear separation to remove any potential vested interests where a team physician could be pressured by the clock or the manager to return a player too quickly.

“You cannot ignore the fact that we are playing with lives based on the new evidence that has come to light. It is a ticking time bomb. The governing bodies have the power, irrespective of what they might say about putting it on the FAs, to take back the initiative to introduce an independent protocol.

“You open this discussion and you are opening Pandora’s box, but it is not the end of the world. Do you want players out there taking blows to the head and then running the risk with the real prospect that something else could happen? Do we need something unbelievably drastic to occur before people wake up to the reality?”

Last week, the NFL removed a $675 million (about 393 million) cap on a compensation payout to former players affected by concussion and Michael Kaplen, a New York attorney and legal expert on traumatic brain injuries, believes that Fifa are opening themselves up to a similar lawsuit.

Kaplen said. “They have an obligation, a responsibility and a legal duty to properly police the game to ensure the players, who play to increase their profits, are not sacrificing their brains in the process.”

Major League Soccer players have begun filing lawsuits against clubs for being kept on the pitch after suffering a concussion. Eddie Johnson, the former Bradford City midfielder, is suing the Portland Timbers after retiring in April, while Taylor Twellman, the league’s MVP in 2005, had to spend the best part of two years in a darkened room because of the damage caused by repeated concussions.

“This is a window to the future,” Orsatti said. “The facts are irrefutable. It is a tidal wave that will engulf the sport.”