World Rugby to trial eye-tracking technology in fight against concussion

Eye-tracking technology which can help the detection and management of concussion is to be trialled by World Rugby as the sport increases its efforts to make the game safer for participants of all ages.

Recent studies have suggested that oculomotor function – eye movement – alters at the time of a concussion or shortly afterwards. The technology is set to be piloted during matches alongside the existing head injury assessment (HIA) process and also as part of the return-to-play protocols.

The way head injuries are dealt with in rugby is now an overwhelming priority, with World Rugby, the Rugby Football Union and the Welsh Rugby Union facing a lawsuit from retired players who have been diagnosed with the signs of early-onset dementia.

Two eye-tracking technology providers – EyeGuide and NeuroFlex – will be involved in pilot studies, although details of the competitions in which they will occur have yet to be clarified. The equipment can capture the necessary data in just 10 segundos, allowing multiple screenings to be conducted, and World Rugby’s chief medical officer, Dr Éanna Falvey, believes it can further reduce the chances of a concussed player returning to the fray.

“We believe that oculomotor screening examination in rugby has the potential to boost the identification and management of concussions by objectively identifying potential abnormalities in oculomotor function,” said Falvey.

Pitch-side video surveillance is already commonplace while a separate study reported in the Guardian last week, which was carried out by the University of Birmingham using male players in the Premiership and the Championship, has identified biomarkers in a player’s saliva which were 94% accurate in predicting the outcome of an HIA.

It has also been revealed during World Rugby’s player welfare and laws symposium this week that players attending disciplinary hearings could, subject to council approval in May, be offered an “intensive coaching session” that would reduce a ban they receive by a week. Players who have been suspended for a dangerous tackle for four weeks, por ejemplo, would be required to send in a video of themselves receiving remedial “tackler awareness” training to qualify for the sentence reduction.

With red cards on the rise as part of the drive to reduce head-high tackles, Entretanto, the double World Cup-winning All Black centre Conrad Smith is in favour of allowing dismissed players to be replaced by a teammate after a 20-minute cooling off period. “If we’re going to hand out more red cards I think it strikes a good balance by not ruining a game,” said Smith.

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