Concussion and head trauma in contact sports to be examined by parliamentary inquiry

Concussion and head trauma in contact sports to be examined by parliamentary inquiry

Lidia Thorpe’s proposal receives unanimous support, with the Greens senator saying ‘sports organisations need to be transparent about evidence’

A federal parliamentary committee will examine concussion and repeated head trauma in contact sports, following unanimous support for the inquiry when it was tabled by Greens Senator Lidia Thorpe on Thursday.

The push follows growing concern about chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, the neurodegenerative disease associated with repeated head trauma and concussion that has been increasingly linked to contact and collision sports.

There are also questions about the influence of the Concussion in Sport Group, an international body of experts who provide sporting codes around the world, including the AFL and NRL, with blueprints on how to manage head injury.

The inquiry will examine concussions and repeated head trauma in contact sports at all levels, for all genders and age groups.

“Sportspeople at all levels must be informed about the symptoms of concussion and encouraged to speak up, without being penalised for it. Sports organisations need to be transparent about the evidence that informs their concussion policies. The inquiry will investigate practices undermining recovery periods and potential risk disclosure.”

In their 2016 consensus statement, the Concussion in Sport Group said there was no proven cause-and-effect relationship between concussions and degenerative brain diseases such as CTE, despite respected neurologists and neuroscientists saying there was a link. The condition can only be definitively diagnosed via autopsy.

In March the former AFL concussion doctor Paul McCrory stood down as chair of the Concussion in Sport Group after allegations of plagiarism. With McCrory as its adviser, the AFL was under increasing pressure to recognise the risk of CTE on players and to act to prevent it by better protecting players from concussion.

The review findings, published in October, found a massive AFL study that promised to make “groundbreaking” findings about concussion resulted in no published research and “confusion” about what happened to tests performed on players experiencing cognitive issues, prompting the AFL to apologise to the players involved.

Thorpe said the inquiry would examine what physical and financial supports were available, including compensation mechanisms for players affected by the long-term impacts of concussions.

“Noongar man Graham Farmer was one of the greatest players in AFL history,” she said. “Unfortunately, he was also the first AFL player diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy. We need to make sure we don’t have a new generation of athletes carrying the same injury.”

The committee will report by the end of June 2023 and former athletes and sports officials may be called on to give evidence.

The neurophysiologist Prof Alan Pearce, , said he hoped the inquiry would be supported.

“This needs to be treated as a serious occupational health issue,” Pearce said. “Hopefully, this inquiry will examine what needs to happen to provide greater funding for research into concussion and CTE so that we no longer have a small group of people associated with sport driving the research agenda.”

Guardian Australia has repeatedly attempted to contact McCrory for comment but he has not responded. He was quoted apologising for the first cases of plagiarism, giving a statement to Retraction Watch that said his failure to attribute work was an error and “not deliberate or intentional”.