It is early in the AFL season, round three is underway and one of the biggest issues on and off the field is concussion

AFL is a physical, some would say brutal, game and retired players claim they are suffering the consequences of the many head knocks they received playing the game. 

The incidence of concussions that caused players to miss matches increased to 3.68 injuries per club in the 2021 AFL season – up from 1.30 injuries per club in 2020. This figure has since increased, although the 2022 data set is still to be released. 

Australian Institute of Health and Welfare data reveals concussion was the top cause of hospitalisations in community Australian rules football in 2014 and the trend has continued.. 

The data revealed there were 5156 injuries that required hospitalisation among AFL players across all ages and sexes in 2018 and 2019, making concussion again the most common injury. 

There were 655 concussions that occurred in this timeframe, making up 12.7 per cent of the total injuries recorded. 

Experts claim concussion can affect memory, judgement, reflexes, speech, balance and muscle coordination. Players who have experienced concussions reported a brief period of amnesia or forgetfulness, where they could not remember what happened immediately before or after the injury. 

Hawthorn player, Jacob Koschitzke says the AFL is taking concussion protocols very seriously amid concerns for players’ safety. 

“The club goes above and beyond to protect us,” he said.

“They give us mouth-guards for free that track if we have endured any head knocks or facial collisions. We also use an app called BioEye which tracks your eyes to measure brain health –  the club doesn’t have to make us use it, but they do.”

Many studies have suggested the anatomical damage athletes endure often occurs post-career. 

“I’m not so worried about my body because it can be repaired with the advancements in surgical treatments, they’ve come a long way. But I do worry about my brain because obviously it’s the most vital organ in my body, and it controls everything else,” Koschitzke said.

More than 60 former AFL players have banded together and to a class action against the AFL in the Victorian Supreme Court.  

 The players are seeking up to $2 million per player for pain, suffering, financial loss and medical expenses due to their head injuries. 

The AFL has released new guidelines in regard to the management of concussions. The plan will include a 10-year $25 million study into the long-term effect of head injuries on players. 

Hawthorn coach Sam Mitchell says the AFL’s decision to spend $25 million on the study is an important step for player safety. 

The AFL says it will continue to prioritise the health and safety of its players and will continue to review their elite and community football concussion guidelines with the benefit of the research insights.