FIFA, soccer’s international governing body, was sued by soccer moms and players who claim the organization failed to adopt effective guidelines for dealing with concussions as more evidence links brain injuries to hitting the ball with the head.
In their lawsuit, filed Wednesday in San Francisco federal court, the parents and players demanded changes to policies and rules to protect players from what they called an “epidemic” of head injuries. U.S.-based adult and youth soccer groups are also named as defendants. No monetary damages are being sought.
Similar suits have been lodged against the National Football League, National Hockey League and National Collegiate Athletic Association. The NFL agreed to pay at least $675 million to settle players’ suits, while the NCAA’s tentative agreement to pay $70 million for the testing and diagnosis of student athletes is being contested in Chicago federal court.
More than 240 million people play soccer, according to the complaint. Eight million people play in U.S. youth leagues.
“Soccer ranks among the top sports in the number of concussions per game,” with women sustaining injuries at a rate greater than men, according to the complaint.
Researchers have found that heading a soccer ball to score or pass is linked over time to brain injuries that can affect memory in amateur adult players, according to the complaint.
FIFA and the U.S.-based soccer organizations have failed to adopt effective guidelines for managing players with head injuries, according to the lawsuit.
Almost a third of soccer-related concussions are caused by heading the ball or attempting to and colliding with another player, an object or the ground, according to the complaint.
The complaint lists as defendants the FIFA, U.S. Soccer Federation Inc., the American Youth Soccer Organization and three other groups.
Accusing the groups of negligence, the plaintiffs — two women who have played for teams governed by two of the defendant organizations and three mothers of children who play soccer — are demanding the creation of a medical-monitoring program for everyone who has played for a team governed by FIFA or one of the U.S.-based groups since 2002.
Delia Fischer, a spokeswoman for Zurich-based FIFA, said the organization hasn’t yet seen the complaint.
She said FIFA has always assigned a “high priority” to prevention and treatment of head injuries, initiating discussions on the subject 12 years ago that led to a scientific consensus and development of “clear recommendations.”
FIFA, which organizes the World Cup, also modified match rules to eject players for concussion-causing incidents, including elbows to the head.
“For FIFA competitions, all team doctors are fully informed about these recommendations,” Fischer said. “It is the responsibility of each team doctor and any support staff in their team to decide whether or not a player can continue playing.”
Neil Buethe, a spokesman for the Chicago-based U.S. Soccer Federation, declined to comment on the allegations in the complaint.
That organization, together with Major League Soccer, will hold a medical summit to address concussions and other health issues affecting players at all levels, U.S. Soccer said in a statement earlier this year.
AYSO also declined to comment on the complaint. The Torrance, California-based association hadn’t yet received the court papers, George Passantino, a spokesman, said in an e- mailed statement.
Passantino said AYSO provides concussion-awareness training to the adult volunteers who coach its associated teams. Any player with concussion-like symptoms is required to be removed from play for the rest of the day and the child’s parents are advised to seek medical attention, he said.
The case is Mehr v. Federation Internationale de Football Association, 14-cv-3879, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California (San Francisco).
–With assistance from Tariq Panja in Rio de Janeiro.
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