FIFA, world soccer's governing body, and its affiliated organizations in the U.S. are being sued in a class-action lawsuit that alleges they have failed to adopt effective policies to evaluate and manage concussions.
The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Northern California on behalf of a group of parents and players, also names U.S. Youth Soccer and American Youth Soccer. More than 3 million youth players compete in leagues managed by the two organizations.
"The medical community called for change over a decade ago and despite simple, best-practice guidelines -- which have been updated three times since the initial international conference on concussions -- FIFA has failed to enact the policies and rules needed to protect soccer players," Seattle-based lawyer Steve W. Berman, who is bringing the suit, said in a statement. "We believe it is imperative we force these organizations to put a stop to hazardous practices that put players at unnecessary risk."
During last month's World Cup final, German midfielder Christoph Kramer was struck in the head and spent several moments on the ground. After being attended to on the sidelines he was sent back into the game only to be subbed off later when he became woozy. After the game Kramer said he remembered nothing of the first half.
Earlier in the tournament, a Uruguayan player who lay motionless on the field after taking a knee to the head was later sent back into a match against England despite an obvious concussion.
The suit alleges that "returning a player to play before fully recovered negligently puts him or her at risk of a permanent brain injury."
Taylor Twellman, a two-time scoring champion and MVP in Major League Soccer, had his career ended at 29 by a concussion he sustained two years earlier. He says he is still troubled by the injury and founded a concussion awareness group, Think Taylor, when his playing days were prematurely ended.
According to the Center for Injury Research and Policy, concussions account for a third of the injuries sustained by youth soccer players and are more common in that sport than in basketball, baseball, wrestling and softball combined.
"The negligence is remarkable given that FIFA actively promotes its activities to children," Berman added. "Yet no rule limits headers in children's soccer and children are often taught to head the ball from the age of 3."
Berman said a dedicated youth player could head the ball as many as 1,000 times a year while a high school player could head the ball as many as 1,800 times.
"High school soccer players suffer an overwhelmingly disproportionate number of concussions compared to other youth sports," said San Francisco-based attorney Derek Howard, one of the lawyers in the suit.
The suit asks FIFA and its U.S. affiliates to implement up-to-date guidelines for detection of head injuries and for clearing a player to return to the field after a concussion. It also seeks medical monitoring for players who received head injuries in the past but it does not ask for monetary compensation for athletes who have been injured.