AFL brings in 21-day concussion protocol at local level

The AFL has retained its 12-day concussion policy for 2024, but players outside of the elite men’s and women’s competitions will have to abide by a new 21-day protocol.

The league unveiled its updated return-to-play concussion protocols on Wednesday, and the news is especially big for those playing at community level.

In a landmark decision, all competitions under the AFL jurisdiction – except the AFL and AFLW – will now adopt a mandatory minimum 21-day return-to-play protocol.

That includes the VFL and VFLW, elite pathway competitions, and all community football competitions.

The West Australian Football League and the South Australian National Football League currently don’t fall under the AFL jurisdiction, but the league will try to convince them to follow suit.

Under the new community football guidelines, the earliest that a player suffering a concussion can return to play is on the 21st day after the concussion incident, provided they get medical clearance.

For example, if a player gets concussed on Saturday, June 1, the earliest they can return is on Saturday, June 22.

The new community football guidelines and the elite football guidelines are in step with the recent Australian Institute of Sport’s Concussion and Brain Health Position Statement regarding return-to-play protocols after concussion.

The AFL and AFLW will maintain the minimum 12-day protocol, in which players must medically clear the 11 steps in the protocol before being given the green light to return.

In 2023, when the minimum 12-day protocol operated in both the AFL and AFLW, 29 per cent of AFL players missed two or more matches following a concussion, and 24 per cent of AFLW players missed two or more matches after a concussion.

If an AFL- or AFLW-listed player suffers a concussion in a lower-level competition, the rules applied to them will be the 12-day protocols, as long as their recovery is managed in the advanced care settings of their respective AFL or AFLW team.

Repeated concussions must be reported to the AFL chief medical officer, while younger players sustaining a concussion must be treated more carefully and conservatively than older teammates and competitors.

Concussion has been a hot topic for years because of the devastating effect it has had on a number of past and current players.

Some former players have launched a class action against the AFL, and just last month Melbourne premiership star Angus Brayshaw was forced into retirement after a series of head knocks over his career, the most recent being the Brayden Maynard bump from last year’s finals series.

The AFL has cracked down heavily on head-high hits in recent seasons, and is setting an even harsher precedent for 2024.

Port Adelaide’s Sam Powell-Pepper copped a four-match ban last week for his head-high bump on Adelaide’s Mark Keane.

And this week St Kilda defender Jimmy Webster received a seven-match ban for his head-high bump that concussed North Melbourne captain Jy Simpkin.


Justin Chadwick
(Australian Associated Press)


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