There was a disturbing moment early in the second half of Uruguay’s 2-1 victory against England. It was soon overshadowed by Wayne Rooney’s equalizer and Luis Suarez’s subsequent winner, but it is worth revisiting. In the 61st minute, the match paused after a frantic English attack to note that Arvalo Pereira was hurt. ESPN’s English commentary crew bemoaned the gamesmanship of what seemed to be a Uruguayan effort to waste time. And then the camera showed Pereira lying motionless on the ground. The referee quickly motioned on the Uruguayan trainer, and Ian Darke quickly changed his tune.
Replay showed that Daniel Sturridge’s knee had collided with Pereira’s head. In slow motion, it looked worse every time it was shown. Pereira eventually regained his senses and walked off the pitch under his own power. The team doctor signaled to Oscar Tabarez to ready a substitution, but Pereira had other ideas. You don’t have to know that Pereira intended on staying in the game. He wagged his finger at the doctor and fought off attempts to keep him off the field. When all was said and done, Pereira went back out on to the pitch, apparently having overruled the team’s doctor.
This is a problem.
Say what you will about the NFL’s slow reaction to concussions, but now that they’ve acknowledged the inherent risk of brain damage in their sport, they’ve taken action to reduce it. A player diagnosed with a head injury is not allowed back into the game; the doctor’s word is final. Concussions aren’t nearly as prevalent in soccer as football, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t a problem in a game that often requires going after the ball with your head. Due to the prevalence of soccer on the youth level, it, not football causes more concussions than any other youth sport.
The NFL has made changes to the way their game is played in an effort to reduce blows to the head, but soccer can’t quite do the same. You can’t prevent players from bonking heads going up for a header, or eliminate the possibility of fluke collisions, like the one between Sturridge and Pereira. But you can take them more seriously. Today was not the first time this has happened. Hugo Lloris argued his way back into a game against Everton in the last Premier League season, and there was consternation, but nothing was done.
FIFA and the sport’s other governing bodies need to draw a line here. They should follow the NFL’s lead in handing doctors the power to keep players off the field in the case of head injuries. Anything less is unacceptable.