The AFL maintains there is insufficient evidence to recommend the use of helmets to prevent concussion despite a handful of high-profile players donning new-age headgear from Ireland this season.
This season, Melbournes Angus Brayshaw, St Kildas Patrick McCartin and most recently Carlton big man Matthew Kreuzer have all worn protective headgear called the “N-Pro,” manufactured by Irish company Contego Sports.
Contego Sports chief executive Mark Ganly said his companys product, launched two years ago and initially designed for use in rugby, reduced risk factors related to concussion by reducing impact force by up to 75 per cent compared to other helmets, but would not go as far as suggesting it would help prevent concussion.
“We certainly do not make any claims that this is going to prevent concussion. What were looking at doing is reducing the risk factors,” Ganly told Fairfax Media from Ireland.
“Weve been looking at linear impact and rotational impact. Linear is like a head-on car crash, where the two people are hitting each other. And then the other one then is rotational impact. Thats like a glancing blow to the head … and the head spinning.
“All of our testing has been carried out independently by test laboratories and university research groups.
“Weve also conducted a randomised controlled pre-clinical study on the product, which has been peer-reviewed and published.
“They were all based toward the rugby market. But our whole idea is that this product will be adapted for use in any contact sport where a soft-shell product is applicable. Thats a key thing to point out. The product is actually soft to touch, theres no hard shell on it.”
An AFL spokesman said the leagues position hadnt changed.
“There is no definitive scientific evidence that helmets prevent concussion or other brain injuries in Australian football,” he said.
“Helmets may have a role in the protection of players on return to play following specific injuries [e.g. face or skull fractures].
“Overall, however there is insufficient scientific evidence to make a recommendation for the use of helmets for the prevention of concussion in Australian football.”
The AFL said it remained open to new research in the area and was undertaking two projects in the field: a research project with Monash University to assess the evidence for the use of padded headgear in junior football, and drafting a standard regulating the design characteristics of headgear used in Australian football, which is expected to be completed by the end of the year.
Brayshaw started wearing a helmet last year after returning from a string of concussions, while McCartin, now sidelined with an ankle sprain, started wearing the N-Pro earlier this season following his latest major head knock. Kreuzer, took to the field at the Gabba last Saturday wearing the product after missing the previous weeks game against Port Adelaide with a delayed concussion.
The issue of concussion continues to bubble away in football, with several players including Western Bulldogs premiership player Liam Picken and Saint Koby Stevens sidelined for lengthy periods following head knocks. Several past players have publicly thrown their support behind a planned class action against the AFL over the impact of concussions sustained while playing.
Bulldog Caleb Daniel has regularly worn a helmet in the AFL, having done so since his junior days.
Daniel is an Age sports reporter.
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