Top international sports experts representing the IOC, FIFA and several other international sports federations met at the Home of FIFA in Zurich on 1 and 2 November 2012 for the Fourth International Consensus Conference on Concussion in Sport. The objective of the two-day event was to discuss and find a consensus on the best way to manage and prevent cases of concussion in sport.

Professor Jiri Dvorak, FIFA’s Chief Medical Officer said: “What we are expecting is to develop very practical, simple, easy to use tools that could be applied for coaches, for the paramedical personnel on the sidelines and in grassroots, where there is little medical attention. So we’re trying to develop simple educational materials for all involved in football and disseminate them through FIFA development programmes. With such powerful partners like FIFA, the IIHF, the IRB, the Equestrian Federation and the IOC we can make a big impact.

“The three previous concussion conferences stimulated us to perform research studies which allowed us to convince the International Football Association Board to adapt the Laws of the Game to punish incidents which cause concussion such as an elbow to the head with a red card. This has led to a significant decrease of concussions. If we compare the 2002 FIFA World Cup to the 2010 FIFA World Cup, we helped to cut the frequency of concussions and head injuries by half.”

Concussion, which is one of the most common injuries in sport with potential serious long term consequences on the health of athletes, was until recently under-diagnosed and treated. It is now fully recognised as a very serious health threat, and several of the main sports federations are taking measures to protect athletes from adverse effects and to ensure that players recover adequately following an incident.

“Many of the 204 sports that the IOC is involved with have issues with head injuries and that’s why we are really trying to put funding into research in this area because we are trying to plug this lack of knowledge – that’s why we’re having these meetings,” said Lars Engebretsen, head of science and research at the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

Since we were here last, four years ago, there's been a lot more recognition about how to manage it, recognise it, treat it, and how to prevent it as well and, with this conference FIFA has taken a leading role.
Bob Cantu, conference participant.

Bob Cantu, medical director of the National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury Research in North Carolina, agreed: "Concussion's been around for a long time but the importance of that concussive head injury is key. Since we were here last, four years ago, there's been a lot more recognition about how to manage it, recognise it, treat it, and how to prevent it as well and, with this conference FIFA has taken a leading role."

The conference, hosted by FIFA, saw representatives from the IOC, the NFL, the NHL, the IRB, the IIHF, the FEI, and the Australian Football League share their experience and ideas on new prevention, detection and treatment measures with the aim to reach a common approach to this serious issue for both professional and amateur sports. 

The topics discussed were sideline assessment of concussion, diagnosis and return to play, difficult case management, management of pediatric concussion, long-term problems and knowledge transfer and education.

Dr. Karen Johnston, a neurosurgeon specialising in brain injury, based in Toronto believes that the transfer of knowledge is key. She said:  “Science is moving forward in helping us understand that the brain is disrupted when a concussion happens and there are certainly functional problems in the way the brain is working. Very often we see athletes who, in addition to their head injuries, may have mood problems and issues around getting back to their working and sporting lives.

"We're learning that a multi-faceted approach to head injury is what's need to get athletes back to normal. For concussion you need to recruit a lot of different people to help for the best outcome of that athlete, and this concussion conference reaches across those barriers of expertise.”