Doctors warn: Sports federations ignoring brain injuries is an abuse of power

A basketball player from the Dutch national team suffered a concussion and could not go out for several months because he could not stand the light and sound. A professional football player from Ado Den Haag hit the ball with her head, continued playing and damaged her brain to the point that she could not live a normal life for years. The former Ajax and Arizona goalkeeper who was concussed several times and years later still suffers from headaches every day.

Seven former (senior) athletes were reported last Saturday Norwegian Refugee Council About the brain injuries they suffered and its consequences on their lives. Sometimes, team doctors and club coaches had no idea what to do with them, even though there were clear protocols and guidelines on how to deal with concussions.


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Athletes are often sent onto the field very quickly after sustaining a concussion. Outside Investigation Where 23,000 football injuries were analyzed – including the UEFA medical director and PSV Eindhoven club doctor who contributed – it emerged last year that at least half of the players returned to the field very quickly.

Neuropsychologist Erik Matser, who worked at English football club Chelsea and now has his own practice, and neurologist Arthur Boone from St Anna’s Hospital in Geldrop specialize in sports injuries. They believe the sports world pays too little attention to the danger of concussions. That’s why they started an independent partnership to diagnose and treat athletes with brain damage.

“Brain injuries are treatable, but you have to treat them in a timely manner. By sending athletes who have not recovered sufficiently to the field, you are playing with their health. The brain can be damaged beyond repair,” says Matser.

What do you do differently from sports federations or team doctors?

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Matser: “Major sports can be a dangerous environment. There is always a desire to keep playing, both among the athletes themselves and between the coaches and team doctors. If a doctor is on the sidelines of an ice hockey team every day, at a certain point he no longer sees how hard he is hitting.” Players have to deal with it. Sports doctors often step in too late. If an athlete continues to play and gets hit to the head again, it can be serious. Then you get a kind of cascade of brain damage, and sometimes it can’t be reversed Damage. We want athletes to come to us immediately after suffering brain damage. We use brain scans and neuropsychological research to identify existing damage and ensure a calm, balanced rehabilitation. Ultimately, you can prevent long-term brain damage.

Neuropsychologist Eric Matser
Photo: private photo

Boone: “It is clear that we have to be more careful in many sports. It seems that this has not reached the sports world yet.”

Matser told us earlier Norwegian Refugee Council That the former chief medical officer of FIFA, Czech neurologist Jiri Dvořák, hampered his research into brain damage in the 1990s. Matser has already warned of the dangers of brain damage in sports. His hypothesis is that repeated blows to the head in sports such as headers in soccer and tackles in rugby can lead to CTE, where athletes can develop dementia at a relatively young age. American researchers have now discovered the disease in the brains of six hundred American football players.

From the research he did Norwegian Refugee Council It has recently emerged that major international sports federations – such as FIFA, the NFL, and the rugby unions – have ignored scientific evidence of this long-term damage. They refuse to acknowledge that their sport plays a crucial role in the development of long-term brain damage. In the United Kingdom, a number of former senior rugby players have brought legal action against rugby unions. They believe unions have ignored the risk of brain damage and that their health is at risk.

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In contrast to the long-term damage, sports federations see the risk of concussion. There are protocols for team doctors, and FIFA recently introduced an additional substitution option for players who suffer a head injury.

Matzer: “Good measures, but you can’t overlook long-term brain damage. If you don’t treat a concussion properly, it can eventually lead to persistent complaints at an early age. The accumulation of concussions can lead to chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).” So you can’t say, ‘We consider concussions serious, but sports have nothing to do with long-term damage.’ And from our perspective, that’s the answer. Framing From sports federations. When you say that, you are consciously trying to keep the problem small. I believe that many sports federations have been guilty of abuse of power through their behaviour. They made sure that many athletes did not have the opportunity to recover properly.

Boone: “I see a big difference between the sports world and the business world. Of course, people there sometimes get concussions or hits to the head. Twenty years ago, there was the same problem as in sports: corporate doctors didn’t know much about brain injuries.” “Companies found it difficult to take responsibility, and people fell through the cracks. As neurologists, we pushed for better treatments and more caution to avoid long-term consequences. In fact, the same warning that Eric announced in sports at the time. But the business community responded well.”

Neurologist Arthur Boone
Photo: private photo

What has changed in the business?

Boone: “The company’s doctors are now excellently trained. People are immediately taken out of corporate trading and then slowly rebuild their activity with the help of a neurologist. The company will also continue to pay during that period. This is how we prevent brain damage from accumulating.” “Ultimately, we want to integrate this knowledge into sports. We do not want to oppose this sport.”

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It does not want funding from sports associations. Isn’t that exactly ripping?

Matser: “We want to start neutrally. Sports federations have proven that they are able to turn a blind eye, and this is not a good basis. But we would like to talk with doctors from all sports specialties to look at the problem from all sides. The unions must regain confidence.”

Ultimately, athletes benefit most from being able to receive this type of treatment on their own teams, right? The KNVB also has a special outpatient brain clinic.

Matzer: “After all these flows, it is very important to exclude all conflicts of interest. We see that players are still often sent onto the field too quickly. It would be great, for example, if the Health Board, as an advisor to the Government, established independent ground rules on brain injuries in sports and the risks associated with them. In the meantime, we want to protect athletes immediately by establishing their own treatment clinic. “This is just care that is reimbursed by insurance companies.”

Boone: “There is already a change in some sports. Kickboxers, for example, come to me to have their brains scanned, because the association requires them to do it regularly. Then we may see little scars in the brain, and sometimes we are not bothered by it at all. It provides “The opportunity to organize training differently and make sure those scars don’t get worse. We’re keeping the problem under control. That way all parties can benefit.”



Amber Webster

 "Freelance zombie fanatic. Devoted web advocate. Analyst. Writer. Coffee fanatic. Travelaholic. Proud food aficionado."

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