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Experts recommend trial for head injury substitutions in soccer matches

Substitutions in soccer matches in the event of head injuries are moving closer to becoming a reality, according to an announcement by the International Football Association Board (IFAB), the world body that establishes the rules of the sport.

A concussion expert group has formally recommended to IFAB that trials for head injury substitutions begin in January 2021 with competitions that are interested in participating. The plan would be to use these trials to collect relevant feedback for further evaluation by IFAB, FIFA and the expert groups to determine next steps.

IFAB also said in a statement that "the group agreed that applying an ‘if in doubt, take them out’ philosophy would be the best solution to safeguard the health of football players." In addition to medical concussion experts, the group making the recommendation also included team doctors, player representatives, coaches, competition organizers and refereeing and Laws of the Game experts.

The proposal focused on formulating the protocol for an "additional permanent substitution" as opposed to a temporary replacement for several minutes while an injured player is evaluated.

IFAB said that two formal advisory panels are set to consider the head-injury substitution proposal at meetings on Nov. 23 and the topic will be revisited at the IFAB's annual business meeting in December.

The current Laws of the Game allow teams to use a maximum of three substitutes in a 90-minute game, although this year most competitions around the world including MLS have implemented the five-substitute option that was rubber-stamped by IFAB to accommodate hectic and congested schedules during the COVID-19 pandemic.