TIME Soccer

Parents File Concussion Lawsuit Against FIFA, U.S. Soccer and Youth Soccer

Mascherano Head Injury FIFA Concussion
Argentina's midfielder Javier Mascherano (R) clashes heads with Netherlands' midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum resulting in Mascherano being taken off during the semi-final football match of the 2014 FIFA World Cup between Netherlands and Argentina at The Corinthians Arena in Sao Paulo on July 9, 2014. Gabriel Bouys—AFP/Getty Images

The plaintiffs want to change soccer's rules to limit headers and increase substitutions

A group of American parents filed a class-action lawsuit Wednesday against six national and international soccer organizations they claim have mishandled concussion treatment at all levels of play. The plaintiffs are not seeking financial damages, but rather they hope to change the rules of the sport to better protect both children and professional players from injury.

The suit, filed in U.S. District Court, Northern District of California, levies negligence charges against U.S. Soccer, the American Youth Soccer Organization (AYSO), U.S. Youth Soccer, U.S. Club Soccer, the California Youth Soccer Association and FIFA, soccer’s international governing body. The plaintiffs say the organizations have done little to detect and treat head injuries even though they have been aware of the medical community’s years-long calls for change.

The suit seeks an injunction that would fundamentally change the way soccer is played. Currently, professional soccer leagues only allow three substitutions per game. Under the proposed new rules, professional leagues would add temporary substitutions during which an injured player could be examined for concussion symptoms. Parents also believe the rules should be changed in youth leagues so that children under 17 would only be allowed to head the ball a certain number of times per week.

FIFA is far from the first professional sports league to be sued for mishandling concussions: The National Football League, the National Hockey League and the National Collegiate Athletic Association are all currently involved in head injury litigation. Following football and hockey, the suit argues that soccer players are among the athletes most susceptible to concussions: nearly 50,000 high school soccer players suffered concussions in 2010 alone, more than in baseball, basketball, softball and wrestling combined. And two major head injuries at this summer’s FIFA World Cup in Brazil—one dealt to Argentina’s Javier Mascherano and the other to Germany’s Christoph Kramer—have helped propel the case forward.

“There is an epidemic of concussion injuries in soccer at all levels around the world, including in the United States, from youth to professionals, from elite players to children playing for the first time, women and men, girls and boys,” the suit says. “FIFA presides over this epidemic, and is one of its primary causes.”

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