A federal parliamentary committee will examine concussion and repeated head trauma in contact sports, with the Greens saying they have the support of Labor and the Coalition to establish the inquiry.
The push follows growing concern about chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, the neurodegenerative disease associated with repeated head trauma and concussion that has been increasingly linked to contact and collision sports.
There are also questions about the influence of the Concussion in Sport Group, an international body of experts who provide sporting codes around the world, including the AFL and NRL, with blueprints on how to manage head injury.
The inquiry proposed by the Greens would examine concussions and repeated head trauma in contact sports at all levels, for all genders and age groups.
“Repeated head trauma creates a lifelong injury,” said the Greens spokesperson for sport, Senator Lidia Thorpe.
“Sportspeople at all levels must be informed about the symptoms of concussion and encouraged to speak up, without being penalised for it. Sports organisations need to be transparent about the evidence that informs their concussion policies. The inquiry will investigate practices undermining recovery periods and potential risk disclosure.”
Thorpe plans to move the motion to establish the inquiry in the Senate on Thursday.
In their 2016 consensus statement, the Concussion in Sport Group said there was no proven cause-and-effect relationship between concussions and degenerative brain diseases such as CTE, despite respected neurologists and neuroscientists saying there was a link. The condition can only be definitively diagnosed via autopsy.
In March the former AFL concussion doctor Paul McCrory stood down as chair of the Concussion in Sport Group after allegations of plagiarism. With McCrory as its adviser, the AFL was under increasing pressure to recognise the risk of CTE on players and to act to prevent it by better protecting players from concussion.
But McCrory has been accused of downplaying the risks of CTE. This year the AFL began a comprehensive and independent review of McCrory’s concussion work after the league was unable to answer questions from Guardian Australia about his research.
The review findings, published in October, found a massive AFL study that promised to make “groundbreaking” findings about concussion resulted in no published research and “confusion” about what happened to tests performed on players experiencing cognitive issues, prompting the AFL to apologise to the players involved.
But former players and health experts expressed concern that the review did not go far enough.
Thorpe said the inquiry would examine what physical and financial supports were available, including compensation mechanisms for players affected by the long-term impacts of concussions. Sports officials could be called on to provide evidence.
“Noongar man Graham Farmer was one of the greatest players in AFL history,” she said. “Unfortunately, he was also the first AFL player diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy. We need to make sure we don’t have a new generation of athletes carrying the same injury.”
The inquiry has written support from the sport minister, Anika Wells, and verbal support from the shadow sport minister, Anne Ruston, Thorpe said. The committee would report by the end of June 2023.
The neurophysiologist Prof Alan Pearce, who has previously claimed that McCrory and the AFL hindered his own research into concussion and CTE in players, said he hoped the inquiry would be supported.
“This needs to be treated as a serious occupational health issue,” Pearce said. “Hopefully, this inquiry will examine what needs to happen to provide greater funding for research into concussion and CTE so that we no longer have a small group of people associated with sport driving the research agenda.”
Guardian Australia has repeatedly attempted to contact McCrory for comment but he has not responded. He was quoted apologising for the first cases of plagiarism, giving a statement to Retraction Watch that said his failure to attribute work was an error and “not deliberate or intentional”.
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