Join
Search

Uruguay Wins, Science Loses in the World Cup as Pereria Concussion Is Ignored

Bookmark and Share

Uruguay beat England yesterday in the World Cup and most of the headlines were about the late go-ahead goal that sent the British players packing. Barely mentioned in the initial coverage were the grave mistakes made by everyone involved in the game when faced with a potentially significant brain injury.

Fifteen minutes into the second half, Uruguayan defender Alvaro Pereira took a knee to the side of his head. The video is graphic and grotesque. He was knocked out cold. Players and the head referee frantically called for assistance.

Former DC United forward sits after sustaining a concussion and memory loss in July 2011. When professional players are allowed to overrule medical doctors and return to the game, kids learn that they should play through brain injuries. This has to stop. Photo: DailyHarrison.com via Flickr

Former DC United forward sits after sustaining a concussion and memory loss in July 2011. When professional players are allowed to overrule medical doctors and return to the game, kids learn that they should play through brain injuries. This has to stop. Photo: DailyHarrison.com via Flickr

Medical staff came on to the field and signaled to the bench that a substitute was needed. But when Pereira came to, he insisted that he be kept in. He was dizzy and stumbling. Yet astoundingly, he was allowed to return to the game.

The New York Times didn’t question it. Neither did the BBC. “His head is still there,” quipped Joe Melvin at the Wall Street Journal.

But Mike Singer of CBS Sports nailed it in his live blog:

62′ — Scary, scary moment. Alvaro Pereira takes a knee to the head from Raheem Sterling. He looks completely out of it, but is pleading to stay in, despite concussion concerns.

63′ — This is awful. Pereira overrules the doctor, which is an awful decision on the part of Uruguay, FIFA, everyone. “Seems to be ok,” says Dr. broadcaster.

Singer’s right. As we have learned with the National Football League, doctors should diagnose concussion risk and have the final say on whether a player is fit to return. Not FIFA, not television commentators, not coaches, and certainly not the player who has been injured and (physically) might not be in his right mind.

Concussions are complex, and consequences can show up hours, days, or weeks later. Yet the post-game interviews showed how players can insist they are fine even if the medical evidence suggests otherwise because of the overwhelming (and understandable) desire not to sit on the sidelines.

“What I really wanted to do was to help get the result,” Pereira said. “What really matters is that everything is OK. Nothing happened. It was just a scare.”

Nothing happened.

Encouragingly, many sports commentators seemed to realize that something bad had happened, and said so. Cork Gaines at Business Insider urged FIFA to change its substitution rules to give teams the time required to evaluate players who are struck in the head. “Hate seeing doctors overruled with Pereira coming back on,” tweeted Sports Illustrated’s Grant Wahl. “World soccer clueless on concussions.”

We shouldn’t have to question whether team officials did the right thing after the fact. FIFA needs clear, evidence-based rules (not just suggestions on its website) for when a player should return and who should make that determination.

Head injuries, which stem mostly from collisions, are a problem for soccer. And if FIFA isn’t careful, it could end up with a brain injury problem much like the NFL. “If a team’s medical staff doesn’t apply everything science knows about brain injuries in making their decisions, they’re complicit in damaging these players’ futures,” wrote Graham MacAree at SB Nation.

The decision to allow Pereira to play on goes far beyond this particular game. The worst part of it all is the terrible example set for the millions of children who were watching around the world whose own decisions will be influenced by what they see their role models doing.

Posted in: Science and Democracy, Scientific Integrity Tags: , ,

About the author: Michael Halpern is an expert on political interference in science and solutions to reduce suppression, manipulation, and distortion of government science. See Michael's full bio.

Support from UCS members make work like this possible. Will you join us? Help UCS advance independent science for a healthy environment and a safer world.

  • Christine hart

    It will take a lot more pressure, probably of the financial variety, to get FIFA to make changes. It is not an organization that welcomes change or criticism.

Comment Policy

UCS welcomes comments that foster civil conversation and debate. To help maintain a healthy, respectful discussion, please focus comments on the issues, topics, and facts at hand, and refrain from personal attacks. Posts that are commercial, obscene, rude or disruptive will be removed.

Please note that comments are open for two weeks following each blog post. When commenting, you must use your real name. Valid email addresses are required. (UCS respects your privacy; we will not display, lend, or sell your email address for any reason.)