Time for single sports safety plan to protect every player | OPINION

LAST weekend, Albury footballer James McQuillan was severely injured in an Ovens and Murray league match.

Last month, rugby league player Alex McKinnon suffered an appalling spinal injury on the field.

An estimated one in four Australians aged 15 years and over are involved in organised sport and physical activity.

That’s a lot of people who front-up every weekend to kick a footy, hit a tennis ball or, in Sydney, jog around Centennial Park.

The AFL, ARU, NRL and Football Federation Australia all have systems of checks and balances to ensure the safety of elite athletes.

But what about the other 4.4 million people in amateur sport?

A 2006 report by Medibank Private found sports-related injuries in 2005 cost the community more than $2 billion.

Many sports and physical recreation activities are organised by clubs or associations.

This week in Monaco, at the International Olympic Committee conference on prevention of injury and illness in sport, researchers revealed data showing most community sports groups have an ad hoc approach to injury prevention.

A body is needed that can provide and regulate uniform safety procedures outside of elite sports.

Although sports clubs have a responsibility to protect their players, little is known about the safety policies and procedures adopted by community sports clubs.

There is no over-arching sport safety policy available for clubs to implement in Australia.

Community sports clubs use micro-policies around issues deemed relevant to them, sourced from various agencies.

The Monash injury research institute’s Sheree Bekker has looked at 289 safety resources (policy documents, guidelines, action plans, research papers, fact sheets, posters, and so on) as developed and disseminated online by key sports safety agencies.

She found sport safety policies and procedures are provided only in the form of micro-policies that cover single issues such as SunSmart, rules on bleeding on the field, and concussion.

It confirms there is an urgent need for sport safety agencies, such as the AFL and NRL, to collaborate and develop a macro-policy around sport safety.

This would mean all Australian sports players would be covered by a single sports safety plan that can be easily accessed.

It’s important not just to create a uniform safety policy; we’ve got to let people know about it too.

It needs to be disseminated to clubs, coaches, players, families and safety officers.

With social media, there is no excuse for sporting codes not to look after players at all levels and to tweet, text or post them the latest injury prevention facts.

Essentially, the same tools they use to recruit members and organise games can be honed to ensure safety measures are practised not just at the SCG but in Albury, Orange or Newcastle.

Of course, the latest AFL injury survey is something to be proud of and it is a model of what we could do elsewhere.

Imagine if, in five years, we could say most sporting clubs had signed to a program to keep all their members safe — not just their elite players.

Professor Caroline Finch is director of the Australian Centre for Sports Injury and its Prevention and will speak tomorrow at the International Olympic Committee sports injury conference in Monaco.

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