The Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) has just recently approved new concussion protocol for all races going forward. The protocol is supposed to allow staff, along with the athletes themselves, to rapidly assess sports-related concussions (SRC), specifically for fast-paced cycling-related disciplines. Concussions account for between 1.3 and as many as 9.1 percent of cycling injuries, depending on various data sets and the real problem with identifying them lies in the quick-start nature of the races that make up the World Tour. If you crash, you pick up your bike (or your team-mates) and carry on, leaving little time for inspection or analysis by the medical staff. The rider is ready to GO. This was exemplified by Geraint Thomas in this year’s Giro d’Italia where, although not concussion-related, a bad crash in the third stage ended his race, but not before he’d finished the days ride with his lycra shredded to pieces and his hip fractured, to boot. Victory is prized above all else.
Some people see this as a problem, but that attitude is be expected at the very highest level of sports, and that is generally true across the board, with the possible exception of football, where a stiff breeze will put your star striker out for four months. Jokes aside though, the question that always arises with sports is “where do you draw the line between competition and safety?” As we learn more and more about the science of sport, the long-term impact of concussion-related sporting injuries becomes more and more apparent with boxers, American footballer and other such high-impact contact or combat sports athletes finding themselves with shortened lifespans and rapidly deteriorating health as a result of their high-intensity training and competition.
You can look back at football which, although not a contact sport, is definitely not a non-contact sport. The two are not mutually exclusive. You must contest headers and put tackles in in order to win the ball for your side. This will, inevitably, result in some contact between two opposition players. I could write another entire article about the tragedy that is the “outlawing of the tackle,” but I’ll save that for a football-related blog. The point is that people are being turned onto the dangers that accompany sport now, more than ever.
Let’s not blow things out of proportion, however. The new concussion guidelines add training for all non-medical staff to help them spot the signs of brain injury and the UCI is also planning on publishing “symptoms cards” to help teams and staff members know what to look for and catch things before they develop into something worse than need be. This is a good thing! Where many people believe that some sports are overstepping boundaries with regard to athlete safety, it doesn’t appear to be the case here. Fortunately, coolers heads are prevailing on this issue and more safety-related talk is being devoted to issues such as flying barriers (see this year’s Giro), rather than manageable risk. Let’s hope the conversation can be constructive as it goes forward, rather than sensationalist. Athletes, as previously mentioned, are more aware of the risks of their sport than ever before, so let us not infantilise them. Spare us the pearl-clutching and let’s enjoy the races.