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Premier League could test 'concussion substitutes' as soon as next month

Doug McIntyre
·3-min read

Teams in the English Premier League and other soccer competitions around the world will be allowed to introduce an additional substitute in the event that a player is suspected of having sustained a concussion, the International Football Association Board, which determines the rules for the world’s most popular sport, announced Wednesday.

The IFAB agreed to begin testing out the rule change beginning in 2021, meaning that it could be introduced in games across the globe in a matter of weeks. For decades now, coaches have been permitted no more than three substitutes in a match, although that limit was increased to five subs last summer as leagues crammed games into shorter windows after restarting following months-long COVID-19 shutdowns.

As the rules stand, if a player is lost to injury after his or her team has made its full allotment of substitutions, the team must play on shorthanded. That disincentivized coaches, club medical staff members and even the players themselves from removing from the field any athlete who might be concussed, potentially jeopardizing their long-term health. Studies have shown that suffering a second concussion before the first one fully heals can result in permanent brain damage.

By allowing an additional replacement in situations when a head injury has occurred, that conflict of interest would disappear.

Soccer teams could have access to an additional substitution as soon as January if a player suffers suspected concussion in a match. (John Walton/Pool via AP)
Soccer teams could have access to an additional substitution as soon as January if a player suffers suspected concussion in a match. (John Walton/Pool via AP)

“The members agreed that in the event of an actual or suspected concussion, the player in question should be permanently removed from the match to protect their welfare, but the player’s team should not suffer a numerical disadvantage,” the IFAB said in a statement, according to the Associated Press.

England’s Football Association has suggested that it could begin testing the rule when the FA Cup resumes in January. The Premier League could also apply to the IFAB to try out the new system, the Guardian reported last month after Wolverhampton forward Raúl Jiménez suffered a fractured skull in a scary collision with Arsenal’s David Luiz. Prem clubs are expected to discuss the potential implementation of an emergency sub when they meet later this week.

Head injuries in soccer have been under increasing scrutiny in recent years. In a particularly high-profile incident, German national teamer Christoph Kramer initially stayed on the field during the 2014 World Cup final despite losing consciousness following a clash of heads — a decision that was met with universal criticism afterward.

In the years since, many national governing bodies, including the United States Soccer Federation, have banned heading the ball at the youngest ages. Major League Soccer could also try the new substitute rule out next season. MLS has long shown a willingness to test rule tweaks before other leagues; in 2017, it became among the first to use video assistant referees in a competitive matches. Virtually all of soccer’s top leagues have since followed suit.

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