Football World Cups and head collisions: women received more medical assessments than men

A team of researchers discovered rates of head collision events to be similar at the Women’s and Men’s World Cups, however, reported that women had more medical assessments.

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A team from St. Michael’s Hospital of Unity Health Toronto (Canada) discovered that though female and male football players had similar head collision rates at elite tournaments, such as the World Cup, women players received more medical assessments. 

The study, published in JAMA, reported no significant differences between the number of female and male players removed from play. The median time that play was stopped for a medical assessment in women’s tournaments was 70 seconds compared to about 50 seconds in men’s matches.

“There is international consensus that athletes who sustain a potentially concussive head collision should be given a proper medical assessment and be removed from play until a qualified professional can determine that it is safe for them to return to play,” commented lead researcher, Michael Cusimano (St. Michael’s Hospital). 

The team reviewed 52 matches from the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup and recorded the following measures:  

  • head collision frequency 
  • number of medical assessments 
  • time stopped for assessment 
  • visible concussion signs 

The data was compared to matches from the 2014 and 2018 FIFA Men’s World Cup and the 2016 UEFA Euro Cup. 

The researchers discovered that 84% of female athletes and 88% of male athletes demonstrated two or more visible signs of concussion, such as clutching of the head or disequilibrium. Further, only half of the impacted female players received medical assessment and this was even lower for males, as one-third of them were assessed. 

The frequency of concussion in sport and the international popularity of football creates an urgency for this growing concern to be addressed. Increasing the role of VAR, recruiting independent medical assessors or allowing temporary player substitutions to allow time for medical assessments are all suggestions that have been put forwards to better deal with concussion in football. 

“Hundreds of millions of people play soccer – it is the world’s largest and fastest growing sport. Tournaments like the FIFA World Cup attract millions of viewers, and the examples set by elite athletes and officials affect how players and officials globally, at any level, deal with concussions,” Cusimano concluded. 

Source: Tarzi C, Tarzi G, Walker M, Saarela O and Cusimano MD. Medical Assessment of Head Collision Events in Elite Women’s and Men’s Soccer. JAMA. doi:10.1001/jama.2019.19919 (2019) (Epub ahead of print); 

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Kimberley Ndungu

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