SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – The U.S. Soccer Federation will ban “headers” in games for children younger than 10, ending a class action that claimed soccer organizations weren’t doing enough to protect players from head injuries.
“I think it’s a fantastic result for U.S. soccer in general,” attorney Derek Howard with Minami Tamaki in San Francisco said in an interview Tuesday. “The kids are going to be safer, and I think we can now safely say the United States is leading the way in safety for kids under 18 playing soccer without changing the integrity of the game.”
The lawsuit led by former youth soccer players Rachel Mehr and Kira Akka-Seidel sought rule changes to allow medical evaluations without penalty if players are injured.
It said the “Laws of the Game,” promulgated by the Federation Internationale de Football Association and enforced by U.S. youth soccer leagues, did not allow a team to take a potentially concussed player out of the game for evaluation and failed to protect young players from head injuries by encouraging them to return to the field after they suffer concussions.
The original filing sought to limit headers for players younger than 17.
“We didn’t have exact agreement on everything but on all the issues we raised there’s been positive change,” Howard said.
In addition to banning headers for very young players and limiting heading during practice for players between the ages of 11 and 13, U.S. Soccer’s new safety guidelines call for more concussion education among players, coaches and parents and more uniform concussion management. It will also modify substitution rules so players can be evaluated if they suffer a head injury during play.
“I am happy to see that U.S. Soccer is taking steps to protect the players and making the game safer than it was when I played,’ Mehr said in a statement.
In August, U.S. District Judge Phyllis J. Hamilton found the class had no standing to pursue claims against FIFA, but that she would allow an amended complaint against U.S. Soccer if it alleged specific injuries to players.
Lead class attorney Steven Berman said in a statement that there was no reason to continue litigation since the new concussion initiative accomplished what the case set out to do.
“We filed this litigation in effort to focus the attention of U.S. Soccer and its youth member organizations on the issue of concussions in youth soccer,” he said. “With the development of the youth concussion initiative by U.S. Soccer and its youth members, we feel we have accomplished our primary goal and, therefore, do not see any need to continue the pursuit of the litigation. We are pleased that we were able to play a role in improving the safety of the sport for soccer-playing children in this country.”
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