AFL announces sweeping changes to concussion rules on eve of 2024 season

The AFL has just revealed sweeping changes to concussion rules on the eve of the season.

And 7NEWS chief AFL reporter Mitch Cleary says the new guidelines will have ramifications all the way down to junior footy.

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Cleary said the rules marked the AFL’s “toughest ever stance” on concussion.

“In all all junior, community, pathway, and VFL competitions, players will have to sit out for a minimum of 21 days after a concussion (injury),” Cleary said.

AFL and AFLW players will still miss 12 days after a concussion, but that will be a minimum.

The new rules follow Angus Brayshaw’s shock retirement from the game. Credit: AAP/Seven

However, 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 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.

Also in the changes, the AFL’s video review system (AFL Review Centre) will have more power to compel a player to be removed from the field.

“And repeated concussions must be reported to the AFL chief medical officer,” Cleary said.

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.

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.

7NEWS also understands the AFL — not any of the 18 clubs — will be responsible for potential payouts in class actions around concussion.

“In a landmark deal soon to be ticked off, the AFL will take indemnity of potential payouts on concussion for past, current and future players,” Cleary said.

“(That’s) a big relief for the 18 clubs who won’t have to foot any bill. (The topic) was a major discussion item with club presidents and CEOs today.”

The new guidelines have come out as the AFL launched its season in Sydney ahead of Opening Round.

The AFL has taken the game to the northern states for the abbreviated opener, which includes games between Sydney and Melbourne, the GWS Giants and Collingwood, Brisbane and Carlton, and Gold Coast and Richmond.

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

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.

– With AAP

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