21 days out: Concussion rules tightened

The AFL has made changes to its concussion protocols ahead of the 2024 season.

All footballers playing outside the AFL and AFLW competitions will have to wait 21 days after suffering a concussion before returning to play, under new protocols announced by the AFL.

The new protocol will operate in all community football competitions for senior and junior players as well as State and Talent Leagues such as the VFL, VFLW and Coates Talent Leagues.

The AFL’s updated protocols for community football are in line with the Australian Institute of Sport’s Concussion and Brain Health Position Statement released earlier this year, which recommended a minimum of 21 days before returning to play after concussion.

Under the new community football guidelines, the earliest that a player suffering a concussion can return to play is on the 21st day post the concussion incident provided they get medical clearance.

The example being if a player suffers the concussion playing in a match on a Saturday (for ease of the example, let’s assume that the match in which the concussion is sustained is on Saturday 1 June and all subsequent matches in the competition are also played on a Saturday;

The day on which the concussion is sustained is Day 0. Day 1 of the minimum 21-day protocol is the day after the match, namely Sunday 2 June.

The player will, at a minimum, miss the next 2 Saturday fixtures (i.e. the match on Saturday 8 June and the match on Saturday 15 June).

However, as Saturday 22 June is the 21st day after the day on which the player suffered the concussion, the player may potentially return to play in the match on Saturday 22 June, assuming that the player has safely progressed through the 3 stages of the protocol and been approved by their medical practitioner to return to play.

The return-to-play program consists of three distinct stages – rest, recovery and graded return to training and play. The updated guidelines insist on a minimum period of 24 hours (or longer) for each Step of the progression and, if any symptoms recur during the graded return to training and play stage, the player athlete must go back to the previous symptom-free step.

The full details of the new community football guidelines will be released in the coming weeks ahead of the community football seasons.