Soccer Clubs Dodge Calls for Head-Injury Rules

     SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – Youth soccer players and their parents cannot force the Fédération Internationale de Football Association and U.S. soccer leagues to adopt concussion protocols or impose limits on headers, a federal judge ruled.
     Seven players and their parents sued FIFA in August 2014 for failing to protect young players from head injuries by encouraging them to return to the field after they suffer concussions.
     Some also filed claims against the American Youth Soccer Organization, Youth Soccer Organization, US Club Soccer, California Youth Soccer Association and The United States Soccer Federation.
     “We just received the opinion and we’re studying it carefully,” attorney Derek Howard with Minami Tamaki in San Francisco said in an interview Friday.
     The players and parents sought an injunction to enforce proper concussion-management practices and changes to the laws of the game to allow players to be taken out of a game and medically evaluated without penalty. They also wanted a limit on head shots taken by players under 17.
     If the players want to amend their claims, they will have to allege any specific injuries they sustained, Chief U.S. District Judge Phyllis J. Hamilton said.
     In her dismissal she wrote that the complaint was “replete with vague and conclusory allegations of ‘injuries’ and ‘harm’ supposedly inflicted by ‘all defendants’ on ‘all plaintiffs,’ ” but that none of the young players could show they had been injured or were in danger of injury.
     One player had suffered a concussion on one occasion but her increased risk of latent brain injury was not enough for Hamilton, who called the claim “speculative and nebulous.”
     Hamilton also dismissed the players’ negligence claim against FIFA and U.S. Soccer, for failing to promulgate rules on concussion management.
     “A defendant has no duty to protect a plaintiff against risks inherent in a particular sport voluntarily played by the plaintiff, since those who participate in a sporting activity that poses an inherent risk of injury generally assume the risk that they may be injured while doing so,” Hamilton wrote.
     She added that FIFA cannot call for changes to the rules of the game because only the Swiss International Football Association Board, a non-party to the case, has the power to do so.
     In a statement, FIFA said it welcomed Hamilton’s decision and that it will “continue its activities in relation to players’ health via its medical committee.”
     A U.S. Soccer representative said, “U.S. Soccer demonstrated its commitment to enhancing players’ safety long before the lawsuit was filed in August last year, and it will continue with that commitment after the dismissal of the suit.”
     Meanwhile, a FIFA representative pointed to a new head-injury protocol handed down by the medical committee in September 2014 that allows referees to stop the game for three minutes when a suspected concussion occurs so an injured player can be evaluated by a team doctor, who makes the final decision on whether the player can return to the game.
     The change was brought on by a particularly nasty head injury to German midfielder Christoph Kramer during the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. In a game against Argentina, Kramer collided with Argentinean defender Ezequiel Garay, smashing his jaw against Garay’s shoulder.
     While the plaintiffs can no longer pursue claims against FIFA, they have until August 17 to amend their claims against U.S. Soccer, USYSA, AYSO, and U.S. Club Soccer.

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