Senate debates

Tuesday, 2 August 2022



7:58 pm

Photo of Lidia ThorpeLidia Thorpe (Victoria, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Today I would like to talk about concussions in sport. They are much more common than we realise, and this is an issue that needs to be taken more seriously. This is also an issue that affects all levels of sport, not just elite sport. It affects community sports and it also seriously affects our children.

Concussions are not just a knock on the head; they are actually brain injuries. We need to provide better education and change our language and culture around this issue. We need change to ensure that our athletes do not have long-term cognitive impairment due to concussions, so that they and their families don't suffer from the consequences of playing or competing in a sport they love.

A new international research paper just published by concussion experts, including from Australia, has shown links between repetitive head trauma, such as is caused by concussion, and risks of brain damage and neurodegenerative disease. That includes diseases such as dementia, motor neuron disease and Parkinson's. Concussions can cause fatigue, mood disorders, depression and anxiety. None of us want our loved ones to experience this. We cannot allow our major sports to drive the narrative that they have sorted this issue, nor can we believe them when they say that they take athletes' health and welfare as their highest priority. We see too many examples where athletes are expected to return to competition as quickly as possible, or where athletes are concussed multiple times in a season yet are cleared to return.

What pains me most is the way that concussions can impact the health of our children. The earlier concussions are experienced and the more often throughout one's life, the stronger the impact. Already, we have evidence that one-third of our children, at a young age, suffer depression after a concussion. In England there is no tackling in rugby for under-nine-year-olds or heading of the soccer ball for people under 12. In New Zealand there is no tackling for under-nine-year-olds and in Canada for people under 11. There is no reason we cannot set our age to protect our children. They can still learn to play. They can still enjoy the sport, maybe even more so.

We must also have independent research, not sport funded research where scientists and medical doctors are expected to provide sport-friendly findings. We must have a Senate inquiry to ascertain the scope of where we are at with the science and why athletes at all levels and ages are being allowed to return to play too soon after their brain injury.

We should not be afraid to address this issue. I love sport. I've grown up with sport, and, to be honest, sport saved me. I don't know where I would be without growing up with the sport-fanatic family and community that I am still apart of today. I don't know where I would be without it. I know the importance of sport for all of our communities, particularly regional and remote communities. That is all the more reason to make sure that we can all safely play the sports that we love—so we can play them for longer, and so that we can do what we love in life for longer and not be affected by injuries and their long-term consequences on us and our families. Today I want to bring awareness to this issue. Let's start a debate about concussion in sport, and let's include everyone.