Fifa to introduce concussion spotters in the stands at World Cup in Qatar

Concussion spotters, whose job is to identify from the stands possible brain injuries, are to be introduced at the World Cup next year.

Spotters will work in conjunction with team doctors to help identify “red flags” of potential concussion that might have been missed, Fifa’s medical director, Andrew Massey, has said.

Whereas concussion spotters are standard in the NFL and rugby union, they have yet to be adopted across football and their use in Qatar will be a first at a major international tournament.

Massey, formerly the team doctor at Liverpool, took on his role at Fifa in March. He confirmed all Fifa tournaments would now have video replays for team doctors to study for signs of concussion among players, but also and the addition of spotters – medical staff who sit away from the dugouts.

Massey said it was easy for team doctors not to register key signs in the heat of the moment. “Often in football matches you miss these, even if you’re sitting on the front row,” he said. “You have people walking in front of you, you have the manager, you have the referee’s assistant, you have people warming up. So it’s easy to miss.

“All Fifa competitions will have video replays. All Fifa competitions will have concussion spotters in the stand who can go through all these things and relay information to the team benches if it is needed. It will just make things an awful lot safer.”

The permanent addition of spotters, previously trialled at Fifa’s Club World Cup, is likely to be welcomed by campaigners. It will also put the sport’s tardiness in dealing with the problem back into the spotlight. In the NFL, “ATC spotters” have been in the stands since 2012. Premiership Rugby introduced Hawk-Eye-assisted spotters in 2018. Though the Premier League was quick to take part in trials of concussion substitutes, on the grounds that “player welfare [is] the Premier League’s priority”, it does not have concussion spotters.

In an interview with Fifa’s in-house YouTube channel, Massey acknowledged team doctors were often put in challenging positions when diagnosing concussion, knowing a decision to remove a player could affect the outcome of a match.

He recalled Liverpool’s game against Newcastle in 2019 as being one of the most difficult moments in his career as a doctor, when he removed Mohamed Salah from the field for concussion. The forward subsequently missed the second leg of the Champions League semi-final against Barcelona.

“It would be remiss of me not to say that the thoughts of [the consequences] of taking him off went through my head,” Massey said. “We needed to win the match to win the league and we had the Champions League coming up. That went through my head. It shouldn’t have done because it was straightforward, but that was my experience.”