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IFAB give go-ahead to trial ‘permanent’ concussion substitutions in January

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Time to take head injuries more seriously

Chelsea v West Bromwich Albion - Premier League Photo by Darren Walsh/Chelsea FC via Getty Images

The world of professional football has gotten a little better about recognizing the existence of (important first step!) and understanding the potential severity of head injuries suffered on the pitch, but the sport is still fair bit beyond even the likes of the NFL or rugby in terms of dealing with them and given them the proper amount of caution and respect.

Part of that is due to willful ignorance and misplaced machismo, but part of that is also due to the rules of the game itself. Permanent substitutions certainly don’t help, for one, actively encouraging players to stay on and play through injuries lest they lose their place in the squad or hurt their team by forcing them to use a substitution — especially true in leagues like the Premier League, which have decided to stick with just three subs instead of the five now allowed by FIFA & IFAB.

But we might be getting at least a partial remedy for that substitution problem from the game’s rules-makers. IFAB announced yesterday that they have given the go-ahead for trials of “permanent” concussion substitutions, which would grant teams additional substitutes (above the 3 or 5 allowed) for players who have suffered a suspected head injury, allowing them to be examined for more than just the token three minutes currently called for. IFAB were hoping to trial this solution first during the 2020 Olympics, but obviously that’s not happening.

To be clear, this version of the “if in doubt, take them out” solution calls for “permanent” substitutions rather than just a temporary 10-minute change, which is the length of time needed to better assess a head injury.

And, as usual, it’s up the individual leagues to participate in the trial and then potentially adopt any rule changes stemming from those trials. Previous reports said that the Premier League and The FA both favored this version (over a temporary substitution), so perhaps we will see it adopted soon.

This may or may not be the best available solution — both the permanent-sub and the temporary-sub solutions have their pros and cons — it’s at least a step in the positive direction.