This weekend the World Cup will come to an end as Germany and Argentina square off for the championship, but this year’s tournament has created its fair share of controversy that seems likely to hang over the sport moving forward. The biggest controversy likely to haunt FIFA when the World Cup springs back into action is FIFA’s seemingly useless concussion protocol.
If you’ve watched even a small number of the games in this year’s tournament, it should be pretty obvious that concussions are not taken seriously in the World Cup.
There has not been a single diagnosed concussion or brain injury throughout the tournament that I can find record of, yet American’s may recall seeing Clint Dempsey take a kick to the face that broke his nose in an early match, before returning to the field in a matter of minutes. Then, in the widely watched USA vs. Germany game, Jermaine Jones crashed into teammate Alejanro Bedoya, clearly slamming heads together, and collapsing to the ground. None of these players appear to have been thoroughly examined for a concussion before returning to play.
These aren’t even the highest profile cases of apparent concussions in the game. During the group stage match between Uruguay and England, Uruguay’s Alvaro Pereira took a knee to the head and lost consciousness. Despite efforts to substitute the player, Pereira shook off doctos and returned to the game in what he later called “a moment of madness.” Yet, nothing substantial was done to penalize the player or staff for letting Pereira return to play without an evaluation.
Just yesterday, Argentina’s Javier Mascherano also knocked heads with an opposing player before collapsing. After writhing in pain for a short time, Mascherano was assisted to the sideline where he disappeared for a short two minutes before rushing back out to the field. It should go without saying that two minutes is not enough time to undergo a proper brain injury evaluation.
As an observer and moderate fan of the sport, I’ve watched these injuries with a combination of terror but unfortunately it is no surprise. Before the games had begun, there was already significant concern about FIFA’s toothless concussion protocol, and as soon as the hits started rolling in many critics spoke up. Even FIFPro, the player’s union, has called for investigations into these incidents and calls for new player protections which would bring player brain safety regulations closer to other professional leagues like the NFL and MLB.
It seems likely we will witness at least one more plausible brain injury during the two games this weekend, but it is complicated to predict how soon you may see rule changes that could actually prevent events like these. While brain injuries are an increasing concern around the globe, not every country is equally worried by the issue.
Dan Diamond from Forbes points out that there are significant cultural differences in brain injury perspectives, which were especially obvious in the wake of Mascherano’s injury. As Mascherano went tumbling, English-speaking fans and commentators immediately voiced concern about a concussion.
However, the Spanish-language response paints a different picture. One of the most popular tweets following the incident celebrated Macherano’s strength and willingness to play on, which highlights the still-existing school of thought which supports players putting themselves at risk when the stakes are high enough.
While that lenient approach may seem logical to some, it falls apart when faced with a simple question which was put best by journalist Stefan Fatsis. “If all that matters is the result, why don’t coaches see that a brain-injured player is a worse player?”