Australia must develop a national register for sports injuries if it is to uncover serious patterns of trauma as the US has done with its footballers, a senior researcher says.
A study published on Tuesday in US medical journal JAMA found signs of the degenerative brain disease CTE in 99 per cent of former National Football League (NFL) players who donated their brains to the research.
Dr Lauren Fortington, from the Australian Centre for Research into Injury in Sport and its Prevention (ACRISP), is pushing for a national log of sporting injuries to help inform and evaluate current safety measures.
“The USA has a proven system for their sport setting, and they’ve demonstrated a reduction in fatal and serious injuries in American-based sports, such as American football, cheerleading, pole vault and baseball,” Fortington said.
“We can’t just take their lessons and apply them here.
“We actually have to develop a system for Australia because we do our sports differently here than the way they play.”
She said labelling the NRL, AFL, rugby union or other contact sports as outright “dangerous” is not the answer.
“It’s unfair to target the football codes and single them out for their efforts around head injuries, for example,” she said.
“They have large numbers of participants, smaller sports also have serious injuries but perhaps not the profile.
“If you look at injuries per participants … we just don’t know what’s happening across the board in a fair and transparent way.
“The leadership of the football codes and the contact sports to promote safety should actually be supported.”
The national collection of data could help determine the effectiveness of measures including the rollout of defibrillators to sporting clubs across NSW and Victoria, and the AFL’s leg injury prevention program FootyFirst.
“We know FootyFirst works at population level on the number of hospital-treated knee injuries but that’s one sport, in one state, in one area,” she said.
“We need to have this on a bigger level to really show the burden of sports injuries.”
Fortington said the aim is not to discourage people from playing sports but to make them as safe as they can be.