Leading brain injury experts are calling for children aged under 14 to be banned from playing sports following the findings of the Senate concussion inquiry this week.
Concussions and head injuries have come under scrutiny in recent years, with many former athletes dying from complications caused by CTE.
CTE, or chronic traumatic encephalopathy, is a brain disease often seen in athletes who have suffered repeated head injuries. This can lead to memory loss, mood changes, and other cognitive problems later in life.
Currently, it can only be diagnosed after death, with a number of athletes donating their brains to science for further research.
Brain experts have advised that children under the age of 14 should be banned from participating in sports such as rugby league, rugby union and Aussie Rules.
Canberra Raiders’ Jordan Rapana was one of several NRL players to suffer a sickening head injury this season
Athletes who have committed suicide as a result of CTE include star NRL player and coach Paul Green, AFL icon Danny Frawley, Richmond star Shane Tuck and AFLW premiership hero Heather Anderson.
The AFL also faces a number of class action lawsuits from former players suffering concussions.
The Senate concussion inquiry made 13 recommendations, including calling on the federal government to implement a national strategy to reduce concussions in contact sports.
Danny ‘Spud’ Frawley committed suicide as a result of the impacts of CTE after several blows to the head during his playing career.
NRL star and coach Paul Green took his own life just before his 50th birthday while AFLW star Heather Anderson became the first Australian woman to die with CTE.
Now chief specialist at the Australian Sports Brain Bank, Professor Michael Buckland has called for world-first measures to ban children from all contact sports until the age of 14, or risk “a generation of brain-damaged children”.
“Every code needs a CTE minimization protocol, it must be based on two fundamental principles: the first is to reduce cumulative lifetime exposure to these large and repeated head impacts and to increase the “age of first exposure,” he said. News Corp..
“So until we know better, until we have good data on every player from amateur to the highest level, we have to take a precautionary approach because children are our future.
“We’re going to depend on children when we’re old and ruined. If we encourage them to have brain damage when they’re young, we’re stuffed.”
“So the precautionary principle is extremely important here, there should be no tackling at least until high school, 14 years is good.”
Greens Senator Janet Rice
The findings of the Senate investigation, released this week, state:
“There is clear evidence of a causal link between repeated head trauma and concussion and subsequent neurodegenerative diseases such as CTE.” Although important research questions remain regarding the degree of causality and the nature of long-term impacts, these questions should not be used to undermine the fundamental nature of this link.
Deputy Chair of the Senate Standing Committee on Community Affairs Janet Rice (photo) said:
“The committee heard tragic stories from athletes whose lives were shattered by concussion and who lost loved ones to the impact of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, CTE,”
Neurology expert Dr Alan Pearce backed the calls, saying CTE was costing the lives of young adults and needed to be addressed when the budding athletes were children.
“You talk to a teenage male or female athlete about what could happen to them at 40 or 50, that’s two lifetimes away,” he said.
“We published the first case study of a female athlete with CTE, Heather Anderson, she was only 28. We see a lot of young people with brain disease because they are starting to be exposed to sports of contact, men and women, at a given time.a younger age.
“It’s not just a disease of the elderly. If we don’t take care of our boys’ and girls’ brains, we will start to see more of them.
“Unlike America, which has a college sports system, we have a club system. So there are potentially hundreds of thousands of men and women playing club sports who will go undetected and start suddenly develop a mental illness, an unexplained mental illness, and something catastrophic will happen. And we’ll never know.
“I want people to do sport, I’m not anti-sport at all. I just want us to play safely, and for them to be able to play the full contact versions when they can make that informed choice.
“We just don’t want kids under 10 or 12 playing contact sports that potentially involve hundreds of hits to the brain over the course of the year. We want them to play these sports, but under a modified form.”
Although athletes can only be diagnosed with CTE after death, a number of high-profile stars have come forward after revealing they suffered from symptoms of the brain disease.
This includes AFL great Greg ‘Diesel’ Williams who doesn’t remember his marriage, the birth of his four children or his grand final victory.
“It’s definitely a memory issue, both (short and long term),” he said in the recently resurfaced video of him appearing on the All Fun & Games podcast with Rav Thomas in 2020.
“The things that worry me are the ones I don’t remember, like the absence of games, the birth of my children, their marriage, I don’t remember anything.
“I know I played the grand final in 1995, but I don’t remember it. In most games (I don’t remember) it’s pretty bad.
“I’m still functioning but…it’s a big problem.” It’s just sad, really.
Greg ‘Diesel’ Williams played for Carlton, Sydney and Geelong in the AFL and now he doesn’t remember his wedding or his premiership win.
Wally Lewis (right) was known as one of the toughest and most skillful players to ever lace up a shoe, but the rugby league star is now suffering from symptoms of CTE.
Doctors also identified NRL legend Wally Lewis as having a 90 per cent chance of suffering from CTE after he underwent brain scans when his family became concerned about him repeating stories.
“For a lot of sports people, I think most of us believe that we have to prove how tough we are…how tough we are,” Lewis said.
“But we have to accept it and admit that the problems are there.”
And former Wallaby Brett Sheehan almost took his own life after suffering 30 serious concussions during his rugby career.
“There are a lot of things that can contribute to mental health, CTE, because I’m not dead, obviously we can’t diagnose it, we can’t say CTE was a major factor in it,” Sheehan said.
“But what we do know is that repetitive brain injuries like concussions have an effect on mental health, and that has been proven.”
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