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Players' union calls on FIFA to step up concussion care after Amrabat row

Raphael Guerreiro of Portugal battles for possession with Noureddine Amrabat of Morocco during the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia group B match between Portugal and Morocco at Luzhniki Stadium on June 20, 2018 in Moscow, Russia. (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)
by Keir Radnedge, AIPS Football Commission Chairman

MOSCOW, June 21, 2018 - World federation FIFA has come under fire for its ‘light-touch’ regulations concerning concussion after the appearance of Morocco winger Noureddine ‘Nordin’ Amrabat in the 1-0 defeat by Portugal in Luzhniki.

FIFA promised to tighten up its regulations after incidents at the 2014 finals in Brazil when players continued playing after appearing to be disorientated by blows to the head.

The debate over concussion has intensified in the intervening four years after cautionary studies in north America and northern Europe about the long-term effects of injuries and a lack of care and protection.

Amrabat, from English Premier League club Watford, was substituted in Morocco’s opening defeat by Iran after a 72nd-minute clash of heads with Vahid Amiri. He was sprayed with water and slapped on the face to bring him round and was detained in hospital overnight for observation and a brain scan.

Only five days later, however, the 31-year-old started for Morocco against Portugal wearing protective headgear which he threw off after 15 minutes.

After the initial incident team doctor Abderrazak Hefti had said Amrabat would not even even train for a week. However the player, who was outstanding in the first half against Portugal, confirmed he had contravened medical advice by declaring himself fit despite a temporary loss of memory.

He told Dutch television: “From the first minute until I woke up in the hospital. I think five, six hours, are gone. Totally gone. When you think about it, it is a little bit scary. But I am my own doctor . . . and hopefully nothing bad for the long term.”

Concerns were raised after the Portugal game by the international players’ union FIFPro.

Communications director Andrew Orsatti tweeted: “Here we go again. Four years on from debacle of the last WorldCup, where several players didn’t receive adequate care, football has not made sufficient progress in concussion management. Repeated calls to implement world-class standards all overlooked.”

Michel D’Hooghe, veteran Belgian chairman of FIFA’s medical committee, said he would ask Morocco’s team doctor about permitting Amrabat to play. D’Hooghe added: “FIFA has no authority over this. We produce guidelines but it is the team doctors who make the decision.”

Moroccan team manager Herve Renard insisted the player was ultimately responsible for his own heath and had insisted he was fit to play.

Renard said: “He’s a warrior; he wanted to play. It’s because his spirit is amazing and I was lucky to have a player like this. I’m not competent in medical matters. Medical staff take their own responsibilities and so does the player, and I think he’s shown that he’s done an exceptional and outstanding match.”

Dutch-born Amrabat played for Holland’s national youth teams and once for the senior national side but in 2009 he switched allegiance to Morocco and subsequently appeared at the African Nations Cup on two occasions and at the 2012 Olympic Games in London.
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