are two medical welfare aspects to AFL that have long concerned me and now a
six-year study conducted by the University of South Australia, has provided
some welcome research into one of them – that the speed of the modern game
means players now face an increasing risk of serious collisions.

study has found that player speed has increased by 1.5% each year since
1998 and players are also taller and heavier, and clearly these dynamics are
producing greater personal risk of serious injury for all who now play AFL.
This latest research suggests an average player can now expect more than 600
serious collisions throughout a four-year career, which has to be medically
concerning. As I have thought for some time now, AFL is becoming more and more
like NFL in the US,
where the average playing life span of an athlete is incredibly short on
average, in part because of serious career ending injuries.

to Kevin Norton, Professor of Exercise Science at the university’s School of
Health Sciences, since the study first started tracking key midfield players,
“more than two-thirds stayed on the ground for the whole game and when they
fatigued they were moved to full or back pocket positions to catch their
breath.” But as he notes now with more than two-thirds coming off the
ground regularly through the expanded interchange bench and a coaching awareness
of the need to rotate players more, the average speed of the game in the
midfield stays high.

is problematic because the high speeds, while they look great, can lead to
high-impact collisions and high injury rates,” he says.

this year we have seen some sickening collisions but also a worrying propensity
of players who seem intent on taking out players either with their head over
the ball or, more worrying, in proximity to the contest, with contact mainly via
their hips. Herald Sun chief football writer Mike Sheehan has been a major
critic of this trend, and given its
increased frequency it’s only right to query if this dangerous form of attack
is being coached into players?

or later unless this is going to seriously cripple or injure somebody given the
speed of such impacts on an undefended head.

second concern which the AFLPA will hopefully address over the longer term is more
research into the medical condition of former players who have been out of the game for
15 years or longer, and how playing AFL has turned middle-aged men into creaking senior citizens, long
before they should be suffering such serious deterioration.

boxers hearing bells has become something of a sporting cliché but we seldom
hear about former AFL stars who can hardly get out of bed first thing in the
morning, or now can’t even raise a trot from old injuries!