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NRL withdraws $200,000 worth of fines against clubs over concussion protocols

ABC News logo ABC News 6/04/2017
Brendan Elliot was flattened while playing against South Sydney in round three. © AAP: Dan Himbrechts Brendan Elliot was flattened while playing against South Sydney in round three.

The NRL has backed away from its hard-line stance on concussion by withdrawing $200,000 worth of fines.

The reversal comes as the group which educates rugby league trainers in concussion — Sports Medicine Australia (SMA) — tells 7.30 that link between concussion and long-term brain damage is "speculation".

Three clubs — the Knights, Dragons and Titans — were issued breach notices and fines totalling $350,000 last month because they failed to remove players for head injury assessments despite those players exhibiting signs of concussion.

All the clubs appealed against the fines. They had some success with the NRL suspending more than half of the $350,000 worth of fines handed down to the three clubs.

Each club now has to pay $50,000.

NRL facing concussion test case

The NRL is facing its biggest concussion case yet as former Knights player James McManus begins landmark legal action for alleged mismanagement of successive concussion episodes.

The case is expected to be an important indicator of whether more legal action in Australia will follow.

America's NFL has already paid out $1 billion for brain damage caused by concussions and more footballers and hockey players are pursuing their own lawsuits.

Sports Medicine Australia CEO Anthony Merilees said there was no conclusive evidence that concussion caused long-term brain damage.

"There just aren't enough good studies that link it to long-term degenerative brain diseases like CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) or to other psychological issues, for example, depression," he said.

That puts him at odds with many, including Dr Adrian Cohen, the director of HeadSafe.

"I don't agree with that. I think sport has generally come a long way from that particular view," Dr Cohen said.

"The NFL have a billion-dollar class action that they've settled."

The NFL payout came after a brain study of 87 former NFL players, with 83 displaying the degenerative brain condition CTE.

'Professional sports need to be held accountable'

Former Australian front-rower Ian Roberts has been diagnosed with brain damage by two independent specialists.

"Both doctors have told me that it would have been from situations of concussion, head trauma, and given my past career both have said that was highly likely to do with rugby league," he said.

Roberts said the way head injuries are treated has changed a lot since he was young.

"When I was a kid, you used to get a head knock, someone would run on with a wet sponge and dab your head and off you go, because that's all that was known about it then," he said.

"The league, and all those professional sports, they need to be held accountable because it's not just their sport that they are affecting here, it's the kids."

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